October 14, 2012

A Positivity Manifesto.


Positivity isn’t charming. Bad Boys embrace what New Agey wankers call “the shadow.” You know, the fullness of human nature.


Don’t try and be happy all the time—that’s stressful. Instead, practice being awake to whatever is: then we get something better than happiness.  We get unconditional confidence and relaxation, and, yes, a sort of fundamental joy.

F!ck Positivity.

Let this little rant be a clarion call to all those who still have their feet on the ground and brains in their head: let us stand no more for that Cult of Positivity: let us shake our Body-Snatched Brethren by their shoulders, encourage them to relax, grin, and—ironically—lighten up.

Everyone I know who’s reallly into positivity is kind of uptight: and when they see anything that’s not positive they hate on it, which is kinda…funny. We blog about bad news here on elephant—like, say, this—should we ignore such? No. Awareness is the beginning of waking up. The bad, sad, tragic news of 9/11, for example, inspired countless positive life-changes in America.

On the other hand, there’s nothing cooler about being negative than being positive. There’s nothing cool about not caring, or bitching, or complaining. It’s when we can care for both light and dark, and let go of both, that we can begin to truly celebrate our daily life.

Positivity as a cancer on the Western psyche.

We all want happiness. But the way we mount that goal isn’t through thinking happy thoughts or manifesting or suppressing or even attracting. It’s through relaxing with things as they are, and celebrating whatever we’re experiencing—unconditionally.

The pith essence of the entire Buddhist path. #trungpa #buddhism #boulder #boulderbookstore http://instagr.am/p/QkoX3tx91n/

Where did fear—that unsaid unacknowledged “shadow” of positivity—gain its foothold in the American psyche?

Through positivity.

Positivity is no longer just a New Agey spiritualist‘s naive obsession. It’s no longer a teenage dream. It’s gone mainstream through yoga classes and greeting cards and half-baked faux-Rumi quotes on Facebook.

Hipsters—that last bastion of CCL, only recently so bohemianly sarcastic, witty, dry n’droll, now post happy thoughts to Pinterest.

So what’s the problem with positivity?

1. It doesn’t work. Fear is conquered through friendship, not aggression; through breathing in and out, not pushing away and closing down, mumbling desperate Hallmark slogans at ourselves. Fearlessness is attained by going through fear, not avoiding it. As Winston Churchill said, if you find yourself in hell, keep going.

2. It’s uptight: it’s a smiley face version of the longtime British notion of “stiff upper lip.” You know: thoughts of sadness, anger, confusion? Suppress them. But: the way to happiness and joy is through

1) openness,

2) a willingness to give voice and conversation to all thoughts (including respectful criticism, problems, fears, concerns, confusion) and

3) a sense of humor.

Positivity lacks in all three. Case in point: a longtime dear friend who’s recently joined the Cult of Positivity yelllllling at me (literally, I laughed at the hypocrisy) about how I

needed to be more positive at a recent dinner.

3. It’s shallow. There’s no need for positivity: we at our most fundamental are basically good beings. Our human nature is awake, or “Buddha.” We don’t have to paint or band-aid ourselves with happiness—we are fundamentally happy. Any confusion or darkness is, as Woody Allen or Byron could tell you, the source not only of creativity but laughter. Here’s a (Buddhist) analogy: our confusion, sadness, even depression is like the clouds in the sky. The sky is your fundamental nature. Stop being shallow: actually work with your mind, and you’ll see reality glow with direct perception.

And when we’re present, everything’s more fun, real, alive, easy. It’s when we aren’t present, we aren’t in gear, that the ordinary magic that is this precious daily life fades.


Happiness is a sympathetic, understandable goal: Fear through Fearlessness, by Pema Chodron.

For a manifesto that doesn’t make me gag, click here.

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mara Jun 9, 2015 2:05am

I believe it’s a matter of choice… how one wants to live their life;not exactly to be happier,or accumulate material things, but simply to reach a stable emotional state of mind. For some its religion.. for others meditation or yoga… excercise or simply self help books. For some its prayer.. . for others a psychologist & for some…. the readings of the secret. Lets not forget the mind is a powerful (if not the most) thing. For a person that whines, complains & is consistently talking/thinking of the bad/negative experiences they encounter day in & day out… the book the Secret is not a bad idea… works for some. Having read numerous books on mind power/training.. selfhelp etc.. not to mention literature etc. The Secret is a “beginners” book in my opinion, however not a bad book for someone who is only beginning to discover a higher level of consciousness. Light & blessings!

Charlotte Jun 8, 2015 2:40pm

Waylon, a huge MERCI live from France.

Finally a wise word that I would want to reply to all those who did yell at me the same way.

This positivity dictatorship actually adds useless guilt to those not managing/willing to just “fake it”. It does take a huge courage to simply live through difficult times, instead of practicing what seems to me like wishful thinking.

As a Shambhala student myself, I am still working on this fear subject and acceptance, but it is quite obvious to me that this “work” will, in the long term, help me to manage all dukkha much more than wishing upon a star, though the idea does sound lovely.

Lorenzo Nov 14, 2013 8:44pm

This article is dripping with pretentiousness and self-righteousness. "♫My view of spirituality is better than yours! I'm wiser than you are…♫"

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Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of Elephant Journal & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat.” Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: “the mindful life” beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, touches on modern relationships from a Buddhist point of view. His dream of 9 years, the Elephant “Ecosystem” will find a way to pay 1,000s of writers a month, helping reverse the tide of low-quality, unpaid writing & reading for free online.