So many people in the world now seem to be in pursuit of happiness.
I find the current vogue for dishonestly reframing everything in a positive way really irritating. We are not allowed to have problems any more only strengths.
The disconnect between this attitude and what pain patients are living is appalling.
This persistent and problematic level of positivity seems to have entered almost every aspect of mental health care.
I suspect it wouldn’t bother me so much if it was balanced with an acknowledgement that people have real life difficulties that for which they do really need the help of others, especially mental health and social care services.
And I have a suspicion that its all really about people becoming more ‘self-sustaining’ and cheaper to run.
This reaffirms a suspicion that I’ve had for a while: this magical belief that “it’s all about your attitude” is a nifty way to blame us for whatever problematic situation we find ourselves in. If only we weren’t so “negative”, our problems and pain would melt away.
I was positive about my pain for years, believing I would eventually find the cause and fix it. I kept active and pushed myself through pain because I believed it was just temporary.
But all the pushing and straining to work through pain took its toll, and my mental state started to crumble. I sank into deep depressions and got stuck in awfully anxious states as there seemed “no way out” of my dilemma.
Eventually, I had to learn to live with my pain and be grateful for all the “little things” or keep fighting and lose my mind.
The current wave of positivity began with the rise of the Positive Psychology movement almost two decades ago, led by the American psychologist Martin Seligman, previously better known for having come up with the term ‘learned helplessness’ to describe what happens when people feel powerless to change their lives for the better– and proposed as one of the psychological theories for how we get depressed.
We have been encouraged to believe that by thinking in ways akin to making magical wishes, we can improve our lot. That by the repetitive act of reading daily ‘affirmations’ and writing gratitude letters to express how we feel about what is positive in our lives we can increase our sense of ‘wellbeing’. Even that by thinking positively we can avoid death from cancer.
in this way of thinking, it shouldn’t be too hard make pain disappear, so those of us who can’t seem to make that happen are blamed for letting pain get the best of us.
Even though the evidence for positive psychology remains weak when viewed against what we know about other kinds of psychological treatments (and in the case of beating cancer, non-existent), it has consumed all in its path- perhaps supported by the extraordinarily powerful marketing that has accompanied it.
I hadn’t thought of how strongly the media pushes empty slogans like “if you can dream it, you can do it” and others like it.
And positive psychology has found its natural bedfellow in the Recovery movement where there is a similar degree of evangelical positivity about the future prospects of a person struggling with mental health problems.
In the recent book ‘Wellbeing, Recovery and Mental Health’ which ‘brings together two bodies of knowledge on wellbeing and recovery’ the authors describe a type of positive psychotherapy for people with severe mental health problems including such strategies as ‘savouring’ (I’m not sure what that means), gratitude letters, and recognizing your signature strengths; once again without providing much good evidence of its effectiveness other than those who took part had very positive views of the programme. I do hope that was enough for them.