A Positivity Manifesto.

The Elephant Ecosystem

Every time you read, share, comment or heart you help an article improve its Rating—which helps Readers see important issues & writers win $$$ from Elephant. Learn more.

Views 10
Shares 10
Hearts 1.0
Comments 10
Editor's Pick 0.0
Total Ecosystem Rating 0.0
2 Do you love this article? Show the author your support by hearting.


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.

The Elephant Ecosystem

Every time you read, share, comment or heart you help an article improve its Rating—which helps Readers see important issues & writers win $$$ from Elephant. Learn more.

Views 10
Shares 10
Hearts 1.0
Comments 10
Editor's Pick 0.0
Total Ecosystem Rating 0.0
2 Do you love this article? Show the author your support by hearting.

You must be logged in to post a comment. Create an account.

anonymous 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!

anonymous 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.

anonymous 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…♫"

anonymous Oct 23, 2013 10:00am

This writer clearly has a very good intuitive understanding of life, and has heard of the positivity idea through someone who heard it from someone else and didn’t understand it.

Ie- the Secret.

The Secret was Rhonda Byrne hearing Abraham Hicks and wanting to bring it to the masses. If you look it up you’ll see that Abraham Hicks were in the first edition but because the film didn’t tell it the way they meant it they asked to be taken off it. The way Abraham Hicks talk about the Law of Attraction agrees much more with what this writer is saying about honesty and humour etc than simply ‘slapping a happy face on it’ which is what the Secret seems to imply.

Please look it up. The law of attraction is really rather cool when you get it.

anonymous Mar 28, 2013 10:15pm

thanks, great post! i attached another related article for anyone interested to peruse.

anonymous Mar 13, 2013 7:39am

Hell yeah!

anonymous Mar 12, 2013 5:09pm

Let's just not throw the baby out with the bath water. See 5 Big Problems with Positive Thinking (and why You should do it Anyway) http://psychologyofwellbeing.com/201010/5-big-pro

anonymous Feb 27, 2013 9:55pm

[…] We chase the light, wanting to be in the sun all the time, but we forget that the world is equal parts shadow and light. In the darkness of night, Mother Kali, the bogeyman, or whatever you want to call it, might make themselves known, but it is also in the dark that we rest and fall into slumber. The dark hides us and holds us, and in the darkness and silence, we find the parts of ourselves that we fight so hard to keep at bay. […]

anonymous Feb 12, 2013 11:19am

I follow your thread here, but there is nothing more annoying than hearing negative 24-7 about the SAME problems over and over. If you have issues STOP complaining and DO something about them. ACTION is the key. It's like the steps of grieving…eventually you need to move out of the negative and solve your issue. Life is a roller coaster indeed and I've been negative plenty; but I've had the foresight to see it's the decisions I've made that make me pissy. Once I can get my head out of my ass, I realize no one is going to solve this but me…and I get working. Thanks for the post!

anonymous Jan 13, 2013 3:36am

[…] when envisioning the kind of 2013 we dream of having. What are some things we can do to M.A.N.I.F.E.S.T the most joyous, abundant, love-filled, awe-inducing year […]

anonymous Jan 9, 2013 3:45am

[…] The notion that we play a role in creating our experience doesn’t have to be The-Secret-ish, or New Agey. […]

anonymous Jan 6, 2013 7:20pm

Be real and keep it real. Thanks Waylon for the time to express this.

anonymous Dec 29, 2012 1:56pm

[…] Let’s start this New Year, the new week, this new day with a positive outlook. […]

anonymous Dec 28, 2012 7:47am

[…] is something so utterly depressing about the relentlessly positive people in yoga. They are the ‘Stepford Wives of Shri.’ And they are all over my columns with […]

anonymous Dec 21, 2012 2:34pm

AmericanHealthJournal is looking for content based partnerships with website owners in the medical niche. American Health Journal is a health site which contains 3000+ of high quality health care videos. We are looking for individuals to submit guest articles to our website. Please message us at our contact form on our website.

anonymous Dec 12, 2012 1:46pm

[…] let’s face it—most of us are a little jaded with negative thoughts plaguing our […]

anonymous Dec 6, 2012 10:46pm

[…] We cannot heal something that we cannot see, or are not willing to look at. […]

anonymous Nov 14, 2012 9:00am

[…] been working with this idea of holding everything—and I mean everything—in my […]

anonymous Nov 2, 2012 11:36am

[…] is not the time to stand around saying “let’s all set our intentions for peace and change.” This is the time to get up and make those changes happen. It’s time to speak up and stand up for […]

anonymous Oct 24, 2012 9:59am

[…] Now this might sound bit surprising because I can be a real cynic and I’m not shy about it. I find the super-duper positivity stuff to be rather annoying at times. Sometimes the blind optimi… […]

anonymous Oct 22, 2012 11:56pm

[…] 14. “If I’m President of the United States…err…when I’m President of the United States…” Looks like Romney read The Secret. […]

anonymous Oct 22, 2012 10:09am

Great blog. While I don't think we should constantly focus on the muck in our lives, I do think we have to face our shadows so we understand where we are at fault. Positivity can also be used as a cloak, to mask our problems.
I also like what you said about the happy face being used as a stiff upper lip. I have often felt suppressed by "positive" people. They don't want me to talk about politics or my problems or anything that might take them out of their so called bliss. I have also felt a lack of compassion for such types. "Stop talking like that. You are just being negative." Instead of showing compassion for those who have troubles, they brush them off because they don't want their vibration to bring them down. I have also seen them drop many friends and family members from their lives. If we drop everything that isn't perfect, will this truly give us spiritual freedom?
Finding spiritual bliss is about fullfilling our role to the universe, not about getting that necklace we always wanted. if we face our shadow, we might find that the things we thought we wanted were just selfish and shallow attachments.

anonymous Oct 22, 2012 8:20am


This has been on my mind for a while but I didn't quite know how to explain it to other people. There was always something that irked me about "positivity" and being told to be "positive". This puts it very eloquently.


anonymous Oct 22, 2012 7:53am

This is a breath of fresh air. Thanks.

anonymous Oct 21, 2012 10:02pm

[…] Allow me grace as I cut myself on the jagged edges of my projected rejections. Let us bring our shadows into the light. Rise with me like the dawn into a supple awakening. Let’s heal our denial of needs […]

anonymous Oct 21, 2012 6:20pm

Hey Waylon, we've got a shirt for this (2nd one down): http://recoveringyogi.com/store/ 🙂

anonymous Oct 21, 2012 4:12pm

What a refreshing and unpleasantly pleasant article. This made my day. Sometimes I just want to smack that positivity out of certain people.

anonymous Oct 21, 2012 2:12pm

yep, I hugely agree. I did not like the Secret ot the horror of many around me in my 'enlightened ' group of friends. There is a lot to be said to retaining and using the abiliity to begin or encounter things with openness and positive outcomes desired,.. bu tbeing a little cautious or detail seeking is nto in itself inherently bad or non-positive.

Thank you so much fo rthis.

anonymous Oct 16, 2012 6:45pm

You know…reading through all this..positivity may be a false way to get wake yourself up out of a bad case of the blues but I am glad it is there. Recently, going through some horrible personal sh*t, I could have been so down and nasty but the yoga side of me was like "Wow…what an opportunity. Let's see if you can take this and make it good." I have down moments and one of them was today, doubting my "positivity". I've been thinking about that word all day. I don't know.

    anonymous Oct 17, 2012 11:02pm

    Amen. Sounds good. I think if we're thinking about it critically, and still willing to be brave and soft and gently face the music of our reality, being positive is great. The opposite of positivity, however, is not negativity. The opposite of positivity can be maturity!

anonymous Oct 16, 2012 9:21am

[…] A Positivity Manifesto. (elephantjournal.com) […]

anonymous Oct 15, 2012 8:05pm

Hit the nail RIGHT ONE LE HEAD.

I use to relay on positivity as a new age-y yoga teacher in training. And then something just lovely happend. I had to face myself in the mirror and in some of the darkest times of my life. It was dreadful. I can honestly say now, that I would use positivity as a dark heavy cloak to saturate what was really going on in my life, which was not yogi like to say the least.

I recall vividly, after YTT, going home after learning and discussing the 8 Limb Path. I thought I was going to have a mental break down because deep down, I was not following a single path, especially honesty and violent thoughts (Ashimna I think?) I felt completely and utterly false.

As soon as I started to lighten up after a compromise and agreement in result of a huge fight about Kale, yes Kale. So, I held up my end of the bargin and stopped taking everything so so seriously and my opposite would have to stop being so passive agressive (my perspective.)

SInce then, I have stopped looking ay the clock and had to attempt to TRY not to think about the past or the future for a whole hour. Then two hours, then try a whole day, and now I am up to two solid weeks.

I can finally say I am no longer a stuck up im-so-positive-look-at-me person. I'm not posting on tumblr all day about how to be amazing and live life to its fullest when in all actuality I was being a computer screen. Ironic?

I feel to be genuine, and I try to be authentic as possible. But the ONLY way I could be authentic was to start being honest with myself in everyday imaginable but with Humor with a capital H. HAR HAR HAR

anonymous Oct 15, 2012 11:57am

…wait, I forgot one… what's up with all these Positivity Celebrity People selling and emailing the hell out of each other's "FREE" online courses. Let's talk about that too please. enough is enough. But Ode Magazine is doing it now too. Is Elephant next?

    anonymous Oct 17, 2012 11:03pm

    Can we make money off of it? If so, forget our integrity, let's do it!

    Seriously, obviously, some teaching and online courses are great and needed. Many are hucksterism, spiritual materialism.

anonymous Oct 15, 2012 10:49am

Thank you for this! one of the reasons I love love love my elephant journal is because of your plain honesty and integrity.
Without fail, Just when I'm thinking "why is this group so damn clicky and full of themselves..(ourselves) ." or "why is this group creating celebrities out of yoga teachers" or "why is everyone pretending to be so fucking positive", Waylon usually calls it out. Next up, my prediction: "why are all these websites sending out a tidal wave of all the same Pinterest Positivity Postcards???"

anonymous Oct 15, 2012 10:19am

Barbara Ehrenreich's Brightsided addresses "positivity" head on. Breast cancer, job layoffs, significant losses, are NOT the best thing that can ever happen to us. All of it sucks. Resilience, community, and personal strengths get us through. Yes, it's good to work hard to stay positive, but we don't have balance, ying without yang. Grief and sadness are part of what forge our strength. The law of attraction? Difficult situations are not attractive. Overcoming them is difficult. In the end, overcoming doesn't work best alone. If you have a friend who's working hard to overcome, who's going through a hard time, reach out. That is The Secret. The result is amazing positivity. It doesn't happen by itself.

anonymous Oct 15, 2012 9:46am

[…] I know that all the super duper positivity stuff can be a little annoying, trust me, because I can be a real cynic. I think that people who are […]

anonymous Oct 15, 2012 9:23am

[…] […]

anonymous Oct 15, 2012 8:03am

Awesome! There's a brittleness and a denial of reality in this that never sat well with me but then I'm Scottish and we generally find positivity quite challenging. What we do have is a healthy and cynical sense of humour which can be way more effective in making sense of life. As usual somewhere in the middle lies the truth, the real shades of grey. Between the constant moaners and the relentlessly, blindly positive lies reality. Getting comfortable with that is the real challenge. I was also never keen on the, to me, rather arrogant attitude that sometimes comes out of this thinking: if you are a 'failure' by 'my standards' then you are drawing that failure into your life and it's your own fault. Very uplifting. (Insert sarcasm font where required.)

anonymous Oct 15, 2012 7:03am

Standing ovation from me on this dreary Monday morning. Cheers!

anonymous Oct 15, 2012 6:29am

My favorite video about the secret – Warning! you may laugh out loud:

anonymous Oct 14, 2012 11:21pm

Brilliant. I love this. How can one even begin to understand "positivity" if they don't embrace darkness as well? It's all just stories we tell ourselves anyway. There is such deep value in the negative and much to often it goes ignored as we're fed one more dose of happy hippy bullsh*t in our yoga world.

To go all yogic here – take the rasa of disgust (vibhatsa) for example – there is a time and a place to feel disgusted. Disgusted helps you create who you are and form an opinion. One can't even begin to hold space for another person's opinion until they first formulate their own. For instance, If I see one more aluminum water bottle telling me how to live my life I think I'll scream – in a way they disgust me. I don't need to hallmark card every moment. But, to someone else – that bottle is a daily mantra on how to live their life and they love it, and I can accept that.

Well said Waylon. Amen.

anonymous Oct 14, 2012 7:38pm

Like how you brought it all around to being present, here and now.

anonymous Oct 14, 2012 7:25pm

For someone that knows a lot about how to be happy (as word not opinion) you would think you'd be happier.

    anonymous Oct 14, 2012 9:11pm

    Dear Anonymous,

    How do you know? In any case I may not be happy—that's not a goal of Buddhism, particularly—but I am grateful, and I celebrate my life. Read some Walt Whitman, if you haven't lately—he's wonderful.

    Inspired by the Buddhist teachings, and by having my feet on the ground (a nice way of saying a healthy sense of my own failings, and gratitude to those who've helped me over the years), my goal has never been happiness, first: it's been to be genuine, one, and to be of service, two. I'd rather be genuinely sad, a la blues, than fakely happy.

    In any case, I'm on the path, and make no claim to perfection. That, too, has never been a goal of mine.



      anonymous Oct 15, 2012 12:40am

      It's important to remember not to confuse our perception of the world with the world. That's all. Respectfully, A.

        Kate Bartolotta Oct 15, 2012 7:34am

        Positivity and acceptance of reality are not the same thing. I agree, our perception of the word and what's going on for us internally does color how we see things. But to embrace the idea that "it's all good" isn't the same as being present. We can be present with things that are excruciating and look them in the eye and make friends with our pain, treat ourselves compassionately, without spiritual bypassing and refusing to engage with the (difficult) present moment.

        anonymous Oct 15, 2012 10:37am

        Exactly. And that's my problem with positivity—we're consciously, deliberately overlaying or painting reality with a pink happy brush…when we can see reality just as it is, in its fullness (which is different than how we see it now, through our clouds of confusion—it's like the Zen saying about "first we see the mountain, then we realize the mountain isn't a mountain, then we see the mountain again") and actually relax, and celebrate.

          anonymous Oct 15, 2012 2:35pm

          I think some of it is semantics; ie, what really is the definition of happiness? Sounds like you're happy with your sadness; happy with your confusion, happy with your relaxation and celebration. I think that's what the Dalai Lama means when he promotes happiness. Just being ok with it all. May all beings be happy.

Kate Bartolotta Oct 14, 2012 6:26pm

Amen. I know you & I have talked about this before—and I agree. Positivity, when it's genuine (like Holstee manifesto and similar encouraging pieces) and a piece of the whole isn't a bad thing. Positivity, when it's escapism and spiritual bypassing, is well…yeah, fck positivity. Acceptance of our shadow is as important (if not more important) than celebration of our light. We need all of it.

    anonymous Oct 14, 2012 9:13pm

    I was just at Yoga Journal Conference in Estes Park and had a great, brief, talk with Saul David Raye about the John Friend controversies, and the Anusara and ex-Anusara students, and theism, and positivity. It was he who emphasized then to me that the "shadow side," as yoga folks love to say, is rich and wonderful and should be treasured just as much…or trouble lies ahead.

      Kate Bartolotta Oct 15, 2012 7:36am

      Yup. The "oh my god this fcking hurts" moments are just as important to feel fully as the blissful ones. If nothing else, that's where we begin to develop compassion. I am grateful for every painful thing I've experienced, if for no other reason than that it allows me to have true compassion for others in pain.

    anonymous Oct 16, 2012 6:01am

    "Shadow"?…."accepting the Shadow" ? This idea of the "shadow" is more of the same nonsense. If you are going to drop something then just drop it all.

      anonymous Oct 16, 2012 3:31pm

      Don't get caught up in semantics. That's where religions slip from peace to war.

        anonymous Oct 16, 2012 9:55pm

        Writing and expressing and participating in a blog is semantics. Semantics is required. You willingly attack this notion of "positivity" …"yea F&%k Positivity"…yet you give credence to it's opposite "the Shadow"….that sort of thing is more likely to start a war….thats funny

anonymous Oct 14, 2012 6:25pm

Nicely done, Waylon. I love the smell of reality in the evening.

Melina Powers Oct 12, 2016 7:22pm


Read The Best Articles of March
You voted with your hearts, comments, views, and shares.

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.