The Positivity Hoax: How the Science of Happiness Got it Wrong (Pt 1)

Ever wanted to punch a positivity junkie in the head?

Me neither. That would be mean. But I can see why you might be tempted.

In 2000, the American Psychologist, devoted its millennial issue to positive psychology. Fourteen years, and hundreds of books, studies, programs and websites later, ARGHHH.

Enough already.

teacher blackboard

Sometimes it’s easy to feel positive. To see the world in a shiny happy light.

Like when the video of your two-year old and the dog on a slide goes viral and now you have a book deal traveling the world writing about dogs on slides.

Feeling good is easy.

A few entries in your gratitude journal, and you’re there.

I feel grateful for

But what if cool things happen and you still feel deeply sad?

What about when you feel irritable or insecure and afraid?

What if you feel depressed or anxious and you just can’t shake it?

Depressed in bed

Cultivating attitudes of optimism, gratitude and kindness etc, sounds like solid advice. But there’s a dark side that’s rarely spoken about.

The Positivity! movement implies that bad moods and periods of darkness are not optimal, that we should do something to change them. But as any gardener knows, it’s in darkness that a seed germinates and begins to grow.

Believing we should be something other than we are, is like saying we’re not good enough.

Which isn’t positive, or self affirming.

The gratitude zealot

Whenever I come across someone who talks about how positive they are, or who is on a crusade to teach other people to be more grateful, it worries me.

posititivy guy full

My first thought is always—Oh boy, they’re in trouble. What are they doing with their grumpy, I’m-not-good-enough thoughts? It’s not possible to be positive all the time.

If at some later date, I hear they’re depressed, while everyone else is shaking their head saying, but they seemed so happy, I think—of course this happened.

It’s not unreasonable given their beliefs.

The interesting (and confusing) thing is

The positive thinking crusade has been around for over 150 years. It’s typically traced back to the New Thought movement that sprang up in reaction to fire and brimstone Calvinist religion.

But in the last 30 years it’s moved out of the fringes and into the mainstream. It’s no longer seen as some hippy, free love idea, it’s based on science. The science of “positive psychology.”

Which is interesting, don’t you think?

How is it that such learned, well-meaning, sciency type people have got so off track?

I’m so pleased you asked because I’d love to walk you through how science fails us in this regard, and what I think the real secret to feeling happier is.

The Sheriff of Modern Science

The history of science (in 97 words)

Science is the organization of thought, based on reproducible experiments.

It’s not a new thing.

There have always been individuals with inquiring minds, who make discoveries that propel our understanding forward.

Eratosthenes teaches us the world is round

But in the past few hundred years the degree to which we, as a society, turn to science has grown exponentially.

Evidence based analysis is the perfect tool for some things: Like for monitoring the health of our planet. Developing life saving antimalarial drugs. Or creating tools like my Wacom drawing tablet. (I love that thing)

But where we once used the experimental model only for hard sciences—maths, physics, chemistry—we now use it across all areas of society. Including wishy washy disciplines like nutrition, sociology and psychology.

Research and analysis have become accepted as the only way to know anything.

rules for eating icecream

Lord Richard Layard

Did you know that “psychology” used to mean study of the soul?

I love this.

The term “psychology” was first used in the early 16th century by Croatian humanist, Marko Marulic, in his book, Psichiologia de Ratione Animae Humanae and literally translates as study of the soul.

Three hundred years later, everything changed when in 1879 German scientist William Wundt established the science of psychology as an experimental field.

He proposed that the mind could be measured and the nature of being human could be understood through scientific means.

lab open upa

For a long time the focus was on treating people who were “unwell.”

But in the 80’s, psychologists started to look at how to thrive: Positive Psychology.

The shocking truth about science

Science looks like it knows what it’s doing.

Science says things like:

Using ANOVAs we found a significant time effect (F=39.84, p<0.05). Plus an extrapolated correlation of what the bejeesus. Which is why carrots are orange.

Science is like the person you meet at a dinner party who is so freakishly articulate you become paralyzed with inadequacy. Oral skills you hitherto possessed are replaced with an urge to talk about small furry animals.

DInner party conversations(Only a slight exaggeration of what I said the last time someone asked what I did.)

But just because someone uses highfalutin language, doesn’t mean that what they’re saying is correct.

When we discuss the latest research, we don’t talk about the details, we talk about the summary USA Today reprinted. But few journalists are trained in scientific analysis and most research goes to print unchallenged. Yet everyone acts as if what has been reported is true.

Now we have a simplified version of what was already questionable.

I used to be science’s bitch

If a scientific paper said, this is what these results mean, I believed it.

It was all, so, well, rigorous.

After 3 years at college, I was high on how robust science was.

Then along came Murray. A red–haired Canadian lecturer who taught me to see past the somber numbers and weighty words, and ask:

  • Is this really what these numbers mean?
  • What about this oddity here?
  • Should we really be glossing over this area?
  • Can we really draw this conclusion from these findings?

He reminded me about common sense.

Scientists like to think they’re dealing in hard facts. As if they’re measuring the world with God’s ruler. But what’s often forgotten is that all research rests on assumptions:

Assumptions that the data was collected accurately. Assumptions that the participants fairly represent the population. Assumptions that the analysis is correct.

ASSUMPTIONS

Often the assumptions are wrong.

Remember thalidomide.
Remember margarine (You know that stuff is bad, right?)
Remember shoulder pads and leg warmers. (Probably not science’s fault)

A scientist thinks like a mechanic

To a mechanic, a car is a collection of parts that fit together in a logical and predictable way. When something goes wrong, the mechanic wants to isolate what needs fixing.

A car is relatively simple. So this works well.

flat tyre3

A scientist, like a mechanic, sees the world as a series of connected parts, and believes knowledge is found by pulling things apart.

But when you’re dealing with complex systems. This gets tricky.

Take the study of human nutrition: Scientists look at how individual nutrients—vitamins and minerals—affect common diseases, like heart disease and cancer, as well as general health.

But food is complex and so is the human body. Nutrients don’t act uniformly across all body systems. And not everyone metabolizes things in the same way. This is why health officials, in their effort to find a one-size fits all solution, keep making mistakes.

Since the 80’s we’ve been told that cooking in animal fat was akin to cooking in Agent Orange.

animal is bad

And now, three decades later …  full fat is back.

milk full cream

These flip-flops happen because scientists mistake logic for accuracy. You can be logical, but if the pieces you’re putting together (logically) are incorrect, so is your conclusion.

Yes. Some research links fat to heart disease. But other factors are ignored: Sugar. Wheat. Vegetable oils. To name a few.

And we’re all different anyway. I’m never healthier than when eating a high fat, high potato, dairy and meat soaked diet. But not everyone is.

(More on accuracy versus logic shortly)

Fuzzy wuzzy was psychology

If nutrition is vague science (nutritionists don’t think it is), happiness, is even vaguer. The mountain of assumptions is so high you could sky dive off it.

For instance, a study on happiness first needs to define happiness.

In 2004, Martin Seligman—sometimes referred to as “the father of positive psychology”— in his book Authentic Happiness, said, happiness has three parts: (1) positive emotion & pleasure (2) engagement with life, and (3) a meaningful life.

But, in 2011—less than ten years later—in his book Flourish, he changes his mind:

I used to think the topic of positive psychology was happiness, that the gold standard for measuring happiness was life satisfaction, and that the goal of positive psychology was to increase life satisfaction. I now think that the topic of positive psychology is well-being, that the gold standard for measuring well-being is flourishing, and the the goal of positive psychology is to increase flourishing.

In both instances Seligman speaks as if he’s stating fact. But he’s not. It’s a stab in the dark, by a bunch of scientists trying to quantify the human condition.

Hmm.

Lets have a go, shall we.

Being Human Equation

The point is, quantifying the human condition is mission impossible.

It’s like, if you and I get together one weekend to make a net to catch a star—Sunday’s are good for me—we’d get points for trying.

But ultimately, we’re not going to succeed.

A typical psychology study goes like this

Happiness Science Research Study

Researchers often don’t tell people what they’re actually studying.

And hide the real questions in the middle of fake ones.

Happiness Research Survey

The researchers then “code” the answers, converting them into numbers so they can analyze them. They’re looking for correlations and patterns.

Remember, they see themselves as people mechanics, looking for something to fix.

At last. They find something!

happy scientists

They have the answer!

The Pumpkin Study (actually a study on well being and happiness) draws an amazing conclusion …

Positivity Science Research Results

They repeat the study. They talk to researchers from around the world. They’re now more sure than ever.

(They’re also relieved. The next round of funding is coming up.)

And before you know it there are 300 books and websites called “Total complete absolute utter positive positivity.”

But. But. But.

There is a gargantuan leap between noticing that people who are more happy have happier thoughts, and thinking that if we told sad people to change their thoughts, they’d feel happier.

It’s a classic case of looking for a silver bullet and finding duck pooh spray-painted silver. In science terms there is a correlational relationship, but not a causal one.

Correlation versus cause

Take my height these past few years.

Lisa height conclusion2

Steady. No growth. Nothing happening here.

Now take the rainfall in southern California, over the same period.

rainfall only large

This is interesting.

See how the shapes of the graphs are the same.

Look what happens when we look at both results together

rainfall chart

The “R” equals 0.96! This is a very high “R” (R is the correlation coefficient. 1.0 is perfect) My lack of growth shows an almost perfect correlation with the rainfall.

And, it makes sense. I arrived in 2011, and at exactly the same time the rains stopped coming.

newpaper large

In scientific terms, looking for correlations is often the first step in testing any hypothesis. But it’s hardly conclusive.

Yet correlations are often reported as if the relationship is strong and causal.

Psychology isn’t wearing any clothes, don’t tell psychology

It’s widely accepted that positive thinking is good for us, yet the evidence is sketchy.

Even Seligman thinks it’s strange:

The science is quite new and the evidence, if not scanty, is far from irresistible. Why had I worn my knees begging granting agencies—often in vain—for so many years about [other topics], when now, generous individuals, unasked, would just write large checks upon hearing me lecture once about positive psychology.”

There is a general feeling among policy makers and education specialists, many of whom have jumped on the positivity bandwagon, that the science will catch up.

It’s just a matter of time.

But rates of depression have risen dramatically in the past 50 years, and people today are more stressed than ever. According to a recent Stress In America Study, teens and millenials are among the most stressed in society.

Things are getting worse, not better.

The final, and most important question is—

Are we on the right track and is the scientific model the right tool for improving well-being?

Scientists live in their heads. They’re trained to be that way.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Bloggers who draw cartoons and write about spirituality also live in their heads a lot of the time.

who me?

(Yes you)

But feeling peaceful and contented is about learning to use our mind less.

Why?

Because it’s our mind that feels insecure. It’s our mind that pushes us when we need to rest. It’s our mind that’s mean and critical. It’s our mind that doesn’t want to forgive and let go.

It’s out mind that comes up with wrong conclusions born out of fear and ego.

So why do we expect thought-obsessed scientists to have the answer? Aren’t they the last people we should be listening to?

Well-being—the final frontier

The scientific model is looking for a stock set of actions people can take for a guaranteed outcome.

A manual.

Happiness Manual

The fundamental flaw in using science to describe highly complex systems, is that in focusing on the detail, we miss the larger picture.

For genuine feelings of peace and ease, we need to go long. Not short.

We need to take a broader view:

A view that says our path is different from anyone else.

A view that says we are not our mind, or what we do, we’re the bit beneath that.

A view that says there’s nowhere to go, we’re already there. And that our job, in this life time, is to see this.

The next time you see research that says you should be something other than you are

Don’t automatically believe what you read.

Tap into what you feel guided to do. What feels right for you.

Yes, exercise is healthy, but if all you feel like doing right now is eating a bar of chocolate—or having one of your favorite vegan smoothies—and watching reruns of Friends, go for it.

Just watching tv eating chocolate instead of going for a run

And if any piece of “wisdom” makes you feel worse, question it.

In my experience, genuine insight is kind and gentle. Eye opening. And almost always comes down to uncovering another layer of how awesome we are.

To find out what to do with our cantankerous thoughts, read part II of the positivity story:

5 Tips for Inner Peace That Go Against the Positivity Movement.

Thanks for stopping by! I really am, as always, thrilled to have you here.

lisa

 

 

 

PS: Say “hi” below

I always love to hear what you have to say. What do you think about all this pressure to be positive and grateful? Do you even see it as pressure? Maybe it works for you? Maybe it doesn’t? I know that others enjoy hearing more thoughts than just mine. So please do leave a comment below=)

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Comments

  1. Excellent post. And I love, love, love your illustrations and the 7 Secrets book. Looking forward to more!

    • Thanks Amy! Have a great Thursday, and thanks for saying hi=)

      • Hi Lisa

        Great post! And as always I love the illustrations.

        Was actually thinking this morning it’s been a while since I’d seen a post in my inbox!!!

        Thanks for explaining it’s ok not to feel 100% positive all the time, plus I don’t feel so bad for getting irked by super positive people: ‘Yes,the bus is late and we will miss our train and be late for the school play,it’s pouring with rain and I have no coat but !! isn’t it awfully refreshing!!!’

      • Janet Volkman says:

        Caifornia is the hub of positivity. I find it so annoying. I have had a very difficult life and can’t “pretend” to be happy all the time. Some very positive people I know mostly have not had any tragedy in their lives. These people are continually reminding me to “be more positive.” You have validated my negative (whoops) feeling about that.

    • Alain Bos says:

      I’m so sorry, but I get so many emails that I haven’t got enough time to fully respond to any of them.
      I try to fill out any petition that is needed to save our earth and that’s as much I can do…
      I am going to read your 7 secrets and subsequent posts but I just moved to a new home and I just don’t have enough time to do it straight away…
      I’ll comment on your ebook as soon as I read it…
      love, Alain

  2. Always a fun and interesting read. Favorite line: “But as any gardener knows, it’s in darkness that a seed germinates and begins to grow.” Such a great take on lightness (positivity) and darkness needing each other, as we all do.

    • Hi Debbie, and thanks for saying hi! I like how you put it that light and darkness need each other. It’s so true isn’t it. i can’t imagine who I’d be without having spent time in those dark bits =)

      • Agreed. You’re post takes away that feeling of ick for ever being in that dark place and allows us to not feel bad for ever being there. Thank you for that.

  3. Wonderful, thank you and keep up the good work!

  4. “In my experience, genuine insight is kind and gentle. Eye opening. And almost always comes down to uncovering another layer of how awesome we are.” YEP

    I see people doing the ‘gratitude journal’ thing which is kind of sweet but what happens after the 30 days of journaling? I’m not saying endeavours like that don’t make a bit of a dent in the pile of negativity but for sustainable peace of mind, get out of your head as much as you can. And that means not judging yourself for not being the chirpiest person around. And not judging yourself if you can’t get out of your head right away 🙂

    Any mind-created effort to be positive and happy will crash sooner or later. What the mind creates, it destroys.

    • Ooh, that’s lovely. I know what you mean about gratitude journals. The effect is only for as long as you’re doing it. Well for most people. Me anyway! Thank you for saying hi!!

  5. Mandy Beltz says:

    I always look forward to your articles. They speak to my soul! Thank you so much for sharing your own experiences and insight; sometimes it feels like you’re inside my head! Hope you have a wonderful day! 🙂

    • Thanks Mandy! You know that’s really great to hear that it feels like I’m, in your head. And it’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one. Hope you have a wonderful day too! Wherever you are. It’s sunny and warm here, just popped down to the coffee shop and ready to dive into the next bit of the day=)

  6. Hi Lisa :):) Your post is so awesome & arrived at just the right time. Can’t wait to read 7 Secrets !!

    • Thanks Mary! Hope you enjoy 7 Secrets, I always feel like I should put a “this is a bit quirky” warning on the front. Anyway, I do love it, so hope you do too=)

  7. I’m guessing you’ve read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America. I thought it was a breath of fresh air. I’m a psychotherapist, by the way, and just the other day printed on a health fair handout: “‘Thinking positive thoughts’ will not make you feel less depressed or less anxious.” It can take a while to get people to come to terms with the reality that thinking “positive” thoughts, though it “sounds” great, hasn’t exactly worked for them.

    Love the Happiness Manual!

    • Hi Diane—You’re right! I did read Barbara’s book. Great isn’t it. I only found out about it in the middle of writing the article, but saying anything anti-positivity is a bit nerve-wracking so it was nice to read. And she filled in some gaps for me like the history, “New Thought” etc. Hadn’t realized a lot of this. Was good for my American history knowledge too!

      Really is such an interesting area. Some, arguably, backwards steps. And then on the other side, there are some wonderful things happening in the world of therapy too.

      Thanks for saying hi! Have a good day=)

  8. Hi there!
    Such a great post! I so often feel not positive enough. Your post puts some perspective on life 🙂 thank you!

  9. So, so, so, so important, this one here. I can’t wait for part 2!

  10. Christina says:

    If I have positive thoughts, fine, why not they are nice to have. If I have mean, agressive, dark thoughts, fine, they are part of me, too. And I just let them be.
    I’ve met a lot of Be Positive People (who doesn’t nowadays….) and sometimes I am worried a bit. I sometimes fear they are in denial or they are – their let’s call it – explaining their more obscure thoughts or actions quickly away . If you don’t want to have these thoughts you simple stuff them away and you can’t react on them or learn from them.
    What’s wrong with being simply yourself. Light and shadow.

    • Love the way you put that Christina. It really is all about light and shadow isn’t it. I think one of the problems is that people who aren’t in the dark, or who have never been in the dark, are trying to help people who are by saying they should be in the light like they are. Just doesn’t make sense. Like you say, what’s wrong with simply being yourself. It’s the quickest way to the light anyway! Lovely. Thank you so much!

      • Christina says:

        Oh, you are a much nicer person than I am ;-).
        I am pretty much convinced when people “try to be helpful” and tell you: see the positive side or concentrate on the light – right away without listenening to your story – that they simply don’t want to be part of a sad, angry, scary, whatever story by listening. The see it positive simply translate into don’t wanna listen, na na na, that will bring me out of my balance. Sometimes it is used to shut people up + you can have the feeling you’ve been soooo helpful.
        Ok, but then I am not the nicest person I know 🙂

  11. Dear Lisa,

    I have been reading your book and latest posting. During my life’s bumpy journey, I found that just being there for someone softens the ther person’s anxieties and loneliness due to the feelings of not being heard or understood. Like you have said……sometimes the best words to use in certain situations is silence. helene

    • That’s so true isn’t it. We often have this sense that we have to say something or do something. When we don’t. Thanks so much for taking the time to write! Have a great day=)

  12. That was an awesome read and what you have written completely resonates with me. It’s always great to have the reminder, especially when it’s also well-written and entertaining. I appreciate what you have done here!

    • Well, it’s my pleasure. Nothing like getting something off my chest that’s been bugging me for years, and then have a big discussion about it. I was nervous about this article so thanks for your support! Thank you too!

  13. Simon Benatar says:

    Hi Lisa: I’m Simon and I’m 86 years old. I love to read your posts first thing in the morning. It keeps me in an wonderful frame of mind for the rest of the day. You’re doing a great service to older folks like me and I can’t thank you enough for your dedication to make our lives a better one. I hope to meet you someday and thank you again in person. The best to you always.

    • Hi Simon, wonderful to hear from you. I’m really touched to hear that you enjoy reading my articles. I hope to meet you in person one day too. I haven’t done too much of meeting people who read my blog, but in the back of my mind is the idea of doing more traveling and some speaking. So maybe I’ll get around the country/world a bit more and meet people like you. Thanks again for your note. And I hope you have a great day.

  14. Jann Stauffacher says:

    Wow, Lisa, so much wisdom to impart. And love your wit and cartoons … had many a giggle while reading info that although deep and hits home, you have a talent for making it so much fun too. I like how everything you say leads to the valuable point that we are here to realize how awesome we are. We do so much better when we get out of our heads and into our hearts and souls!
    You do express with gentleness and kindness and I agree we all need more of that. Especially when it comes to loving oneself. That is a tall order for so many of us. I’m definitely a work in progress in that regard. Becoming Vegan was one of the best things I’ve done in my life to align mind/body/spirit and live an authentic life … meaning really listening to that voice within … our higher selves that actually do care about our well being and share only information that will benefit us the most. Our conscience is an expert guide to keep us safe and happy on our “walk home”.

    You are like a North Star shinning a bright light on that path.

    So, thank you so much for being you. Continued success on your journey of discovery. Yeah!!!

    Love, peace, wellness,
    Jann

    P.S. Loved your vegan reference … of course I did. You are Vegan friendly I can see that and why wouldn’t you be?!

    • You are very welcome! I do so love sharing what has helped me so much. I was blessed to meet some wonderfully wise people who helped me when I needed it. And to be able to do it in my way, is an absolute blessing.

      Laughed re the vegan friendly comment. Yep. Definitely vegan friendly. One of our favorite restaurants is Cafe Gratitude. Have you been? It’s in LA, and maybe a few other places. Holy smokes it’s good. If you don’t live near one, they have a cookbook. I’ve never tried cooking from it, but their food is divine.

      Thanks for saying hi!

  15. Lisa,

    What you say about the pitfalls of science is so true. Scientific studies can often be used to support opposing theories. E.g. Coconut oil used to thought of as all bad. Now it is touted as having many beneficial properties and is found in expensive health food stores. The same goes for fat, coffee etc. Results of studies are often published to a wider audience without explanation of the nuances. Scientists, of necessity must isolate conditions in order to form conclusions, whereas in real life no condition exists in isolation. Our human body/mind is a constant interaction of various factors. This is not to negate the value of or validity of science but to remind ourselves to be wary of swallowing everything that is published as irrevocable fact.

    • Hi Kavita! Coconut oil is interesting isn’t it. Another one they’ve done a flip flop on. Now when I look at the nutrition guidelines I can hardly believe the health department are serious. They seem to be so far behind and stuck in old science. I reckon there’s a fair bit of political interference too. Which is another discussion! Thanks for sharing your insight. A pleasure chatting!

  16. As someone who dreams of becoming an author one day but hasn’t got a clue how to put my thoughts into words………I wish I was as inarticulate as you Lisa.
    As someone who is feeling extremely negative right now and trying to cure myself by reading books such as phyco cybernetics and the law of attraction…..you have cheered me up x

    • You mean “articulate”

    • Well, Roy, you have cheered me up. As I have no idea what phyco cybernetics are. And re being an author, you know, it’s a great surprise to me that I write. I was never the kid at school that was good at English. I used to spend more time decorating my assignments than I did writing them. (a clue perhaps). I suspect you’re more articulate than you realize. I’ve heard other writers say this, and it’s true, accepting that first drafts are a pile of dung, is half the battle. Dive in, I say!

  17. Hi Lisa, loved the post! I was reading along and was like yes yes yes!!! Reminds me of what Cheri Huber’s book There is nothing wrong with you – is all about!

  18. Hi Lisa, I have been following you since early 2013 when I fell headlong into a deep, dark place. I have had many “life challenges” previous to this and have “stayed positive” through them as everyone likes to put it. I have never been seriously depressed or anxious before but many things just came to a head and I was deeply shocked as I realised what many other people who suffer in this way, sometimes chronically, have to go through – worse than all my other bad experiences put together, and that’s no small thing. Now I am truly out, out, out of it after 1,5 sloooow years (aagh!) and am appreciating life in a way I haven’t before. I just wanted to say that your blogs, and the book 7 Secrets have been such a comfort and great help to me. This article also really speaks to me as I have had someone telling me constantly to THINK POSITIVELY then all my problems will be solved!! ( grrrrr…). You put things so well, have a lot of insight and make me laugh too, so I will keep on following you even though I am in the light again, and plan to stay that way. I have to agree though that (constant) negative thoughts are the motor of depression, in my case mostly about myself, which I believe is quite typical for depression. I have been lucky to find a smart and to-the-point talk therapist who has really helped me get back to approving of myself . However, a mix of negative and positive thoughts are the normal balance in life and I refuse to believe people who say they don’t have negative thoughts – they are only kidding themselves, blocking out stuff, and not truly experiencing life or connecting properly with others.
    Anyway, many thanks again and keep up the great work you do for all of us out in cyberspace. Hugs to you! J.

    • Hi Juilet, you know, it’s hard for me to respond to your comment, because it, and so many others on this page, are so touching for me to read. When I write things, I of course do it largely alone. I always think about how to say what I want clearly so that other people will understand. But then, well, when i hear that it helps people it’s almost overwhelming. So, thank you so much for taking the time to write. It sounds like your bumpy time (to use Helene’s words above) has opened up a new way of seeing things. This happened to me when i was in my mid twenties, and I was never the same again. In a good way. Anyway, thanks so much for saying hi. And yay, to knowing that it’s normal to have a range of thoughts, some pleasant, some unpleasant! Hugs to you too!

  19. Ria Roegiers says:

    Lisa, you have a knack of making people laugh, think and nod their heads in approval, all at the same time!

  20. Lisa, I have been one of those people who look at most all “positive thinking” messages. Yours is the only one I truly resonate with 100%! Thank you so much for your blogs. Love your “7 Secrets Your Mind Doesn’t Want You to Know” book. It was fun reading! Since subscribing to your email posts, I’ve unsubscribed to most others! I find that some people make things more confusing and complicated than necessary. I wondered why I always feel so frustrated and more confused reading theirs!

    I’ve been meditating for about 5 years now and the things you write have been a missing piece I needed for my own peace and clarity. Thank you for sharing!

    • Hey Sherrie! I know what you mean about things often being more confusing than they need to be. Seems to happen more in this spirituality genre too, doesn’t it. I was lucky to have someone break things down super simply and now I get to pass that on. With some pictures thrown in! Thank you so much for your kind words. I really do appreciate it=)

  21. Lisa, love your real-world take on feeling happy! It speaks to me because it seems to say don’t sweat the small stuff, stop beating yourself and others up about being anything less than perfect and you’ll feel better. It’s so true and good to hear! 🙂

    • That’s a perfect rendition of just about everything I believe. So easy to forget sometimes, but it does always come back to that doesn’t it! Thanks for taking the time to say hi!

  22. Lisa! Fun stuff!! I’m one of your newest newbies and I’m now suddenly most impressed,,, especially with myself!! Keep it coming,,, Love Ya, Joey

    • Welcome newbie Joey! Cool to have you here. And cool to hear of your self-impressedness! I don’t think that’s a word. But I like it. Another day, another way to to practice digging all the things we think are wrong with us. Excellent. Thanks so much for saying hi=)

  23. Gwen Atkinson says:

    Hi Lisa,
    This is the first time I have read your blog (a friend posted the link on Facebook). I love everything about this article. The fact that science can get it wrong…assumptions, correlations, causes… I am always a bit leery when I hear about studies. One of my first questions is always, “Who funded this study?” … I know, I know… very cynical. Same with statistics. Trust me, I do a lot of PR … I can spin any numbers you give me!
    Speaking only for myself, my greatest periods of growth have come from days/weeks/months spent in the darkest of dark. Sometimes bad things really DO happen… and they are not necessarily your fault. Jeff Brown (https://www.facebook.com/Soulshaping42?fref=ts) writes a lot about this type of stuff from a bit of a different angle.
    Anyway – I have signed up to get the emails.
    Keep up the great work – Love the humour.

    • I know what you mean about funding. For ages (ie when I was studying science) I thought it was super cynical to think like this. Ha. Now, not so much! Thanks for sharing about your dark times. Like you say, they’re not our fault, they just are =)

      PS: I haven’t heard of Jeff. Will check him out. Cheers!

  24. Thank you Lisa, you make it ok to be who we are, sounds simple, but it is the hardest thing to just ‘be’ in a world of pressure to be something/someone more than we actually might want to be, or are. I’m looking forward to the next one!

    • You’re very welcome Steph. It does sound simple doesn’t it. For me the easiest way is to take it a deeper level, and be OK with the fact that I’m not OK with myself some times! Almost feels like cheating. But I reckon it’s the way!

  25. Great article as usual Lisa – I love all your stuff! I am learning that not resisting, and accepting myself just as I am is key. Compassion for yourself and others in all things! I also notice there is a sweet spot when dealing with the “self” – not doing nothing but not overdoing it – so it is tricky. Being an analytical type person it was hard for me to let go of wanting to be “fixed” by working hard at it or following some kind of program. The key was that I didn’t need fixing – just accepting who I was at that moment. Anyhow keep up the great work Lisa! I will always be reading. : )

    • Oooh, I am right there with you on the sweet spot thing. I like how you put that. I realized a while ago that if I could learn to try less hard, most of the time, I’d actually be better off. But then again, it’s my nature to try hard, so I give myself more slack around that too now. Here’s to over-thinkers everywhere!

  26. Marjorie says:

    Hi Lisa, i enjoy reading your blogs. This one is an eye opener as i do think we tend to accept what science says and we forget to question. I agree that one cannot and does not need to be happy all the time but then what is happy? Happiness to one may not be the same as happiness to another. I started mentally listing at least 5 things i was grateful for each day why back in January. I find that this practice actually allows me to be more peaceful and since i do this just before going to sleep, it is very helpful, usually. looking forward to reading more of your blogs.

    • Thanks Marjorie=)
      One of the reason I wanted to write this post, is I feel like I I’ve had the privileged position of being immersed in science for a few years, and then through some unusual circumstances able to see another side to it.

      That’s great to hear a gratitude practice is useful for you. I think the word happiness is not a good one. Like you say, its different for everyone. I always shoot for “ease.” As it incorporates unpleasant times too. Thanks for taking the time to say hi!

  27. Love this, Lisa. I have a friend who is up at five, works in the garden, goes to a field to pick blueberries, bathes her 93 year old neighbor, makes homemade everything, sews like a pro, and is state director of a huge organization. She corrects my shoulds, can’ts and dont’s because they are not positive. So, to all of us who sleep until 9, or later, buy frozen vegetables and fruit you should read this. I can’t imagine why you don’t: The water lily grows in a murky, muddy and dark pond thick with weeds. Yet it’s beautiful flower surfaces totally pristine. All life starts in the dark, either in the earth, mud, or in the womb. The darkness contains the nourishment needed for life to emerge. So there.

  28. Lisa, you are hilarious! Your pictures make me LOL. If you didn’t blog you would do well as simply a cartoonist. I receive many different daily e-mails but none are as exciting to find in my inbox as yours. l luckily found your material in the midst of a very dark time after a sad divorce – it’s been very helpful – it’s all just thoughts. Anyway – feeling like I’m pulling out of it and excited one day to meet someone like you with such wisdom, spirituality and hilarity. Thanks for what you do.

    BTW, I researched the Wacom tablet a bit – never heard of it – my daughter loves to draw but has an I-pad with drawing apps. Just curious – would having both be redundant.

    Thanks again you are awesome!

    • Hi Phil,

      So, thanks for saying I’m funny. I know I should be cooler and less attached to things like this. But that is one of my favorite things to hear. I have thought about cartooning. Just haven’t been sure what to do with them, or if people wanted to see cartoons. Often there’s no life changing message in them, they’re just funny. (She said modestly)

      Good question re the tablet. I don’t have an iPad, but I’ve recently seen what my friend can do with hers and a drawing app, and it’s now top of the list of things I want. Mostly because I think it might help with drawing simple cartoons. The iPad is incredible. Game changing really.

      The wacom tablet is something you use with a laptop. When using programs like CS5 (that’s the adobe suite of design tools. It includes Photoshop, Illustrator (for drawing pictures) and Indesign (how I make books, docs and multiple images for slideshows and things). So if your daughter was starting to use some of these programs then it would be useful.Otherwise you have to draw with your finger on the mouse-pad.

      Does that make sense?

  29. Yes. Just yes. Some days I just don’t want to be be ***** positive – and it’s OK! Thanks Lisa, excellent article xx

  30. So good to hear from you again Lisa! Brilliant article. I too had come to suspect that the positivity movement was missing the point, almost sinister actually. Those who I have come across who are into it in a big way always seem like they’re just about to crack somewhere below the surface – as though they are deeply afraid. I read this article on ABC.net recently which you may have seen – “Experts say the term “positive thinking” is misunderstood and can actually cause more harm than good.” -http://www.abc.net.au/health/talkinghealth/factbuster/stories/2014/06/30/4026158.htm

    I hope all is well for you 🙂 X

    • Thanks Lucy=)
      It has been a while since my last article. But I’m good. Pottering away. Enjoying a hot LA summer. And hoping it will actually rain one day so that all the trees won’t die. Hope you are well too!

  31. Thank you! I love what you do.

  32. What a great post Lisa. Your work just makes so much sense to me as I can totally relate to what you say. Pretty strange that scientific minds are touting positive thinking, when it’s a spiritual thing and really can’t be proven by scientific research. Thanks for what you do:))

    • Thanks Chris! It is strange isn’t it. I don’t think they think of it as being spiritual. Interesting though. And I do think there might be a shift happening. Have a wonderful evening =)

  33. Carole Osvalds says:

    Lisa,
    Well put and just what I needed to hear! I have been trying to be more just plain “accepting” of myself and recently got some feedback that I am not “good enough”, which just put be back in the “I have to do better” Frame of mind , which I find exhausting! Thank you for listening and writing so well! I will keep reading!

  34. Lisa Johnston says:

    Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for this one. Very timely, and relevant for me, and my friends as we have just lost a dear friend to suicide. A friend who had everything going for him, and probably thought he should be happy. I am also an ex-scientist, who has been immersed enough in the scientific world, to know all about its limitations, and to know just how ridiculous and mis-placed the common perception of ‘science’ as god really is. So thanks Lisa. As always it is a pleasure to read your well composed, quirkily enjoyable words. Sending love from Aotearoa….

    xo Lisa (the other one).

    • Hi other Lisa, in Aotearoa!

      There really is so much pressure and misunderstanding about what it is to be human, contented and so on in this day and age, isn’t there. Can be really tough. Really sorry to hear about your friend.

      And thanks so much for your ex-scientist reflections. Really valuable! Thank you.

      And Kia ora:)
      XX

  35. It simply makes me smile that you do this work. Thank you for what you share with us.

    • Wonderful to think of you smiling as you read this. I must say, I do too, well, for the first 50 times! By the time I’m ready to publish I can’t see one funny thing among it all! Thanks for saying hi!

  36. Wanting to be different than you are (even if you’re wanting to be more positive) isn’t very positive. Ha ha ha! Great point!

  37. I loved this…so true and so inspiring. Yes we all just need to be nice to one another!

  38. Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for your article..
    Love to read your article, that always open up my mind.
    I’m always looking forward for your posts.
    Keep up on your wonderful work..

    Albert.

  39. I am new to your website and I want to say thank you for your free ebook. I found it very refreshing. Helped me to realise that trying to be positive all the time is taking away something from my life. At least at this moment that is how it feels. I know that that feeling will change for something else and on it will go. After reading your blog, which I really enjoyed and I love your drawings, I feel I can see where I have been trying too hard to get all this positivity into my life. Like everyone else who is not always feeling positive I have been searching the Internet and reading a lot of stuff and have even tried some of it, but it always seems to come back to fighting the negativity. What a relief to find someone who is now saying what is and that its okay to just let them be. I know it is difficult when we have too many negative thoughts and can become depressed but I have found that when I have a good long look at some of these thoughts they can be replaced but deeper understanding about myself and I get to see where I can make changes in myself, that are coming from me. I hope this makes sense love be with you and am looking forward to your next blog.

    • Dear Pearl, you’ve summed up the effects of trying to be positive so well. Thank you. And I love how you describe finding a deeper understanding. It absolutely makes sense to me. Like a tiny light goes off, an idea occurs to us, and then, quietly and without fanfare, we’re eased to a more gentle way of being. Have a great weekend, and thanks so much for taking the time to write and say hi!

  40. Julie Lawrence says:

    i just wanted to mention that i love you. thank you for writing. i love reading your stuff more than i love bliss-balls (with raw cacao and walnuts)

    xxx

    • Hi Julie!
      Okay, so better than bliss-balls. That is cool. I’m trying to remember where I had them. Nice to hear from you again! And thanks for your super kind words.

  41. Ysobelle says:

    Amazing words as always Lisa. There is something about the way you write I really connect with…. could be the fantastic wit and straight up honesty and insight you deliver in every piece! Just wanted to say thank you for being you and reminding me that hey it’s okay to be human and not feel positive all the time! Especially comforting after becoming extremely frustrated at my boyfriends ‘gratitude zealot’ of a best friend (as perfectly illustrated in your fourth drawing), who seemed to think the best way for my boyfriend to deal with becoming primary carer for his terminally ill brother was to ‘STAY POSITIVE’ and think happy thoughts and exercise and eat well etc etc etc etc…… what an exhausting way to live.

    I think I’m happy with being momentarily not so happy 🙂

    • Ysobelle says:

      Also… you somehow summed up my current state of mind in 3 simple lines….

      “But what if cool things happen and you still feel deeply sad?
      What about when you feel irritable or insecure and afraid?
      What if you feel depressed or anxious and you just can’t shake it?”

      Thank you for understanding x

    • You’re very welcome Ysobelle (what a beautiful name you have).
      Ooh, that’s nice, “I’m happy with being momentarily not so happy.” Well put. Thanks so much for saying hi! And sharing your situation. I’m sure many can relate. XX

  42. Tod Colby says:

    After spending my 30’s being treated for depression (despite a financially successful career, etc) I have found that the root of most unhappiness traces back to expectations: we are unhappy because this person, that car, this vacation, house, job or life isn’t stacking up to what our expectations are. I redefined my role in this life after a near fatal heart attack 3 years ago. I can’t put my finger on what it is- and I’m not sure I want to- but I’m happy just going through this life witnessing the amazing that happens every day as birds collect at the bird feeder in the morning, cars clutter the highway to go to work or a jet airliner lifts off of a runway. In a way, it’s like being a child again & just soaking it all up with no expectations to compare “good” or “bad” outcomes to. I’m alive and it’s a beautiful thing. That should be enough.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Todd. It’s beautiful. I know what you mean about expectations being crippling. It sounds like your heart attack was a life-changing event, I’m wondering whether you see all those years feeling depressed as part of the shift, too.

  43. Hi Lisa,
    Your article assured me that there’s also people like me who aren’t always happy. I had friends whom I found so blissfully adjusted to their new marital lives, never complaining about adjustment issues with their new in-laws, getting pregnant and happily raising kids, never complaining / irritated with husbands or life. They always seemed to me like perfect individuals. On the other hand, though I had a supportive partner and good living environment now, still every single day my moods fluctuates. Some day, I am giggling over the silliest jokes and on other days, I am gloomy and disliking my partner for the silliest issues. Also, it irritates me when some elders teach that patience is the key to a successful life. They cite their examples that they have bear so much mental abuses in their life, still they never gave us. They always adjusted with everybody. I can’t do that. Because I am “ME”. At times, I have my breakdown. No logic works. I fail to hide the darkness stirring in my heart. My bad moods starts showing on my face. I am bad in wearing happy masks. People misunderstands me. Openly, I speak out my mind when something irritates me to the maximum threshold. Still its’ ok.

    Take my regards,
    Mili

    • Hi Milli,
      The trick is finding the balance between, being cool with how things are, even when you feel yuck, and realizing, that when we’re in a bad mood, we’re not really our self.

      Have you read Dr Richard Carlson’s book, You Can Be Happy No Matter What? It’s actually not about trying to be happy, it’s more about how to see unhappy thoughts in a way, that makes them less dire. Dr Amy Johnson’s book and website are also very good. In case you feel like reading further!

      • I will surely try to read the title suggested by you. Slowly, I am learning to be ease with my bad mood days too! Take care, Lisa!

  44. Hey Lisa

    Thanks for a clear, funny and informative article on positiveness. I’m with you on this. I never got the whole Pollyanna/Little House on the Prairie ‘gratefulness for everything’ attitude, smiling through all, being thankful. And I could never do that gratitude journal – it just felt so phoney. I know I’m ‘lucky’ but I am where I’ve brought myself, and my life is good on the whole. Yes, some crappy things have happened, and more crappy things will happen, but more good things will happen too. To me it usually balances out. And sometimes, there can be an amazing power in perceived negativity – I call it ‘my inner rod of steel’, the times when my back it to the wall and life really is giving me a hammering. Smiles and a bright outlook just wont do it then; it’s full on gritted teeth, grim determination, and stomping on through to the other side (thank you Dr Martens). Then the smiling can start again.

    Small marginally related story about expectations. My dad died a few years ago, and I was remembering him with an in-law, who was bemoaning the fact that he didn’t speak more with his mother before her death. He felt he didn’t have ‘closure’ and he was suffering because of it. Then I heard myself saying “there’s no such thing as closure – it doesn’t exist, you’re better off just getting on with things”… Honestly I didn’t know I felt that way about it until I heard myself saying it. I’d never consciously thought about it. But I realised I personally don’t waste energy trying to get closure – I make peace with where I am now; knowing I will be somewhere else soon – because life is transitory, things shift and change, and I (we) are ever evolving and adapting. And aint that wonderful!

    • Oh forgot to mention, good book on understanding science reporting (echoing what Lisa said) is “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre, or check out his website http://www.badscience.net.

    • Love the Dr Martins stomping through metaphor! Yee ha. And thanks for sharing your insight about closure. I’m sure others reading this will be as touched by it as I was. What I really like about your point, is that it shows how easy it is to get caught up on concepts like “closure” etc, and then go round in circles trying to achieve this. Love your way! (I haven’t seen that book—thank you, will be sure to check it out!)

  45. Enjoyed this as well as the book. Wonderful work

  46. Hi Lisa, Thanks as always for your valuable insights. I always love seeing your emails in my inbox, and this latest post came at a great time, when I was, once again, beating myself up for not having an angelic mind or heavenly thoughts. You, and Adyashanti have been great inspirations for me to “give up fighting” or said another way “realize that resistance is futile”. You help remind me that as soon as I go into the boxing ring with my thoughts in attempt to expel them and usher in what my conditioned mind has dubbed as “acceptable” thoughts, I find myself on the ropes, losing yet another round.

  47. Thank you Lisa for this post. I struggle with having to always stay positive because it is what I am “supposed to do”. However, I have recently come to the realization that life has to be balanced and that means with the positive, there will be negative. And that is ok.

  48. Great article! I’m in therapy for PTSD from long term childhood sexual abuse. While I think being aware of my thoughts and possibly changing some to a more positive outlook can be good, it’s not a cure all. I simply need to have my dark thoughts and to be able to express them. People around me got nasty telling me I needed to be more positive and greatful which I find hilarious because of the irony while looking in to their face all twisted up in judgement. I feel more poitive when I can truthfully express the negative (without raining on other people’s parade). The positive movement can make people afraid to deal with the truth. I usually keep most dark thoughts to myself and express them only in therapy or on paper now. I always feel better when I do. I’m being authentic and not holding it all in. I love positive people who also show the other side in a balanced perspective. That is what I’m aiming for. Reading this article helped me see that a big chunk of my stress is coming from monitoring myself so I don’t piss other people off. Thanks!

  49. I loved this post! Right on, and glad you sent out the email to us (all). I think it is always hard for people to not have a right or wrong answer, and to just trust their hunches, or instincts, inner voice, whatever one may call it. This article was a great reminder that there are no right or wrong answers; sometimes, it just is!

  50. Just Someone ;) says:

    Hi,
    Great post! I recently read an article which – in pure behavioral terms – said positive reinforcement sets you up for positive punishment! If you are happy when you receive compliments, it sets you up for being sad when you don’t receive them. If you are happy when you are positive, it makes you vulnerable for being negative and unhappy! Things just ARE….

    Thanks a lot again for your thoughts….!!

    • My pleasure! Thank you for your thoughts! I think there is a lot to be said for how we educate people to seek approval. As in, it’s not helpful. And, like you say, sets you up for a fall. I had a huge fall when I got sick and wasn’t getting any approval after years of having it!

    • Very interesting!

  51. Brilliant! Funny, insightful, supportive and helpful! Thank you for touching so many of our lives, so glad to be part of of band of cheery but challenged people! Actually we’re probably the norm – the rest just aren’t tuned in! Love your thoughts, words and please, keep up the good work

  52. I love this post, thank you for writing it! I enjoyed following your wise and playful observations. As a mental health professional I have concluded that these so called scientific studies are one dimensional barriers to real experience, and collectively are rather hilarious. For the record, I too find perky super-positive people suspect! Life is full of texture and intrigue. The most fulfilling experiences have more to do with exploration (and tenderness) than measurement. In my experience, shifting from positivity to creativity yields more juice!

    • My pleasure! And, ha yes GO creativity. Another dear topic for me. After years of being a science student, and not being able to do arty things, I was convinced I wasn’t creative at all. Really great to hear from you. And keep up the good work! Love knowing there are people like you spreading the creativity message. XX

  53. Jasmine Dunning says:

    Thank you so much for doing what you do! I think the need to feel positive and my inability to always do so fills me with shame and embarrassment sometimes and makes me somehow feel less moral and like a bad person.The way you talk about the mind being separate from who we are as a person is something I have really felt my entire life but never been able to even fully think in my own head, let alone articulate. I have found it very comforting and like it has allowed me try and let go of feeling bad about some of the thoughts I have. I read another post a while ago where you discussed it and forgot about this until just now. I think I have rediscovered it at a time when I really need it! I think it should allow me to shut my brain off a little tonight and get some rest. Thank you again I am very grateful xxx

    • Hi Jasmine=) I am touched to hear your story. In fact, your experience is familiar to me, and was the reason for my writing this article. We’re taught there is something wrong with us when we’re negative, but there really and truly isn’t. I can’t tell you what a negative pile of muck comes out of my head sometimes. I talk more about this in part two of this article. But I honestly don’t think there is anything wrong with me. Or you. Or anyone else. In fact, i think teaching people that it’s not ok is far more sinister. So, here’s to having funky thoughts!

      PS: Thanks for saying you enjoy my work! It’s just occurring to me to mention that I have a very supportive husband who believes as strongly as I do in this work. This website is more of a team effort than it might appear. And both of us thank you for being with us!

  54. Thanks for this one! I’ve been feeling this intuitively for a very long time. Looking forward to the second part!

  55. Hi Lisa!

    As always, I love reading your blog.

    You have a way of saying things (and your awesome illustrations) that cuts out all the dung and gets to the point. Your humor well that just adds another level of awesomeness! (Love the red boots! – where did you get them?)

    I keep a printed copy of your book in my work bag. If ever I am having a down day I read it and it certainly helps put things in perspective!

    Looking forward to Thursday and Part 2.

    Have a good one! 🙂

    • Hey Karyn — love that you have a printed copy of your book in your bag. I REALLY need to get that thing printed properly. It must be an unwieldy as it is. The boots, well, they are my imaginary boots. I realized a while ago that I could draw me dressed in whatever I wanted. So I started making me wear cooler clothes than I actually own. Mainly in the boots area! The red boots are the boots I’d like to have but don’t yet.

  56. Michelle Kowalski says:

    People who present as totally positive all the time, and make a point of letting you know it, seem like cartoon people to me. Unreal. Their demeanor says ‘don’t lay any negative shit on me. You are obviously not getting it right. There’s something wrong with you.’ I don’t mean those who are quietly happy – you can see their gratitude for their happiness and their awareness that the state is fragile and that they are blessed to be there. I mean the ones who trumpet. And I always am reminded of the saying ‘the lady doth protest too much’. Meaning, if they were really happy all the time would they need to keep affirming this for themselves and announcing it to everyone else on a constant basis? I also think those who are truly feeling happy are interested in making other people feel good, not put down because they are not currently feeling chipper.

    • Good point about it not being about a ra ra happiness, and more a quiet happy. I like the word “ease” as it implies we can feel ok whether we feel happy or not. Ahh.

  57. Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for an interesting post. I do agree with what you said about positive thinking maybe not being all it was promised to be. However, I think you were a bit too dismissive of science as a way to develop a greater understanding of all kinds of different facets of our world. When you just dismiss science as a whole like that you risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Science isn’t like a religion where you believe it or not, its a cognitive process, a way of trying to make sense of the world. Each study needs to be critically evaluated based on its own merit. I’ve watched a lot of puppies die because their owners didn’t “believe” the science on vaccines and instead chose to listen to the breeder. Just because the data on positive psychology didn’t mean what it was interpreted to mean, doesn’t mean science is useless for studying happiness and how our minds work.

    I also profoundly disagree that scientists live in their heads – science is all about trying to empty your mind of all preconceived notions to find new ways of looking at the world. Science is about admitting we know nothing – in science everything is a theory. If you’ve ever heard a true scientist speak you’ll notice they never accept anything as a fact – they always qualify saying things like “these results are consistent with this theory” “with this study population it appears likely that” and many other qualifiers. I’ve rarely read a scientific paper that didn’t end with “further studies are necessary”.

    I agree we need to look critically at the results and interpretations of studies and refrain from over-interpreting the results. I’m not saying it’s infallible, but anything published in a reputable journal has undergone a rigorous review.by experts in that field. Is it perfect – not by a long shot, but its better than getting information from a blog, newspaper article, or the high-schooler in the health food shop.

    Sorry to be so wordy, I usually really enjoy your writing and perspective.

    Glenna

    • Hi Glenna!

      Thanks so much for taking the time to write! It’s not always easy saying we disagree, so I really appreciate that you took the time to voice your thoughts.

      This article uses humor but I do believe that the effects of the positivity movement are for many people very serious. For the millions of people who are depressed or anxious. And for the many more millions who think there is something wrong with them when there’s not.

      I have read many peer reviewed articles like the ones you mention, I have published one myself (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition) so I get how they work. And while this system of scientific reporting is the best we have, I think a wider discussion, like the one we’re having, is valid and important. And of course research is hugely valuable in many areas.

      Re: Its better than getting information from a blog, newspaper article, or the high-schooler in the health food shop

      I think we need to be careful when dismissing non-scientists view point. Who’s to say that the high schooler doesn’t have something more valuable and correct to add than a researcher? Some of the wisest people I know either didn’t go to college, or if they did, got their real chops outside it.

      Tertiary education is a pretty closed system and doesn’t actually nurture innovation as much as we’d like think. Often the real innovation happens outside universities. If you’ve been in the system you’ll know how much energy is expended teaching people how right college educated people are, and how we shouldn’t trust people who aren’t. We end up brain washing professionals into being close minded.

      A huge and fascinating topic all right!

  58. Dear lisa, thanks for your lovely pictures and much considered writings.. They open a little of lightness and possibility into my brain and heart. Xxx
    Meanwhile I am reading a book called ‘the ascent of humanity’ by Charles Eisenstein. Much of the content resonates with yours.. And what more you can download for a donation from his website. Google him.. Think you might like it., or anyone else reading this.
    Much love Stella x

    • Hi Stella in New Zealand! Lovely to hear from you again. And thanks for the book rec. I haven’t heard of that one. Mucho appreciated. Hope y’all down there have a great summer=)

  59. So happy to have come across your site. This post was great and parallels what I have been reading in other areas. I highly recommend a book called Falling Upward by Richard Rohr. He is a Franciscan priest but i would say quite unconventional (those who are turned off by the Catholic tradition, don’t be because this is why he is unconventional) He talks about suffering and “dark nights of the soul” as being important to grow spiritually. Life is not always positive, and while gratitude is important, it is okay and even necessary to have suffering in order to grow. I don’t mean go seek it out but you don’t have to because it happens to everyone. I also am one of those people who live way too much in my head. I am working to try and connect more to my heart and spirit. Thanks for letting me know there is someone else out there trying to find their way with these same issues. Love your book and column!

    • Thanks Carol! Lovely to have you join me here. US here. (Am starting to feel we’ve got a bit of a community going). I haven’t heard of that book – what a great title for a start. I shall add it to my holds at the library. Thank you. I really appreciate your taking the time to say hi.

  60. Cheryl McMahon says:

    I love your writing, I honestly do…I got the broader points of this article, but heaven help me,
    when I read “Scientists live in their heads”, I thought “Boogers do too.” Which, made me laugh…
    and that is positive, right? Experiment concluded.

    • Ha ha. That’s so funny. Do you know, I came across a cartoon the other day that used that same play on words. The cartoon was of a job interview. The interviewer said, “so what do you do”, and then heard “booger” instead of “blogger.” Thanks for sharing that!

  61. Hi Lisa, Lovely, hilarious, serious post. Context is everything, isn’t it? Science is wonderful for the hard sciences of physics and chemistry but when applied to the complexity of living systems, it becomes more of a lucky dip (particularly medicine where it can be a very unlucky dip). Personally, I am always positive when I am not being negative or indifferent. Thanks for this and all of the lovely and interesting comments from your tribe. Looking forward to more.

    • Thanks Zarayna! That’s great that is: “Personally, I am always positive when I am not being negative or indifferent.” Ha ha! Aren’t other people’s comments great. Really puts some of these ideas into context and rounds out the discussion. Thanks for adding yours!

      • The best piece of common sense I’ve read about in a very long time. Science views anecdotal evidence as something you’d find in a rubbish tip I think they should take another look it has one enduring quality, it just makes sense. In celebration of your thoughts on food I went and purchased takeaway, I must admit I bypassed the 2 majorly toxic food outlets namely McDonald’s and KFC.
        Your work is so refreshing Lisa–please keep it coming. Thank you.

  62. Hey Lisa

    Love your blog. Its really witty, funny, kinda kooky gentle and so insightful. I also loved your 7 Secrets Your Mind Doesn’t Want You to Know.

    Thanks so much Lisa. Its a pleasure reading your stuff as it brings both a smile and solace.

  63. I adore your writing style and what you have to say! You say so much that correlates completely with my beliefs. I have spent my adult life questioning myself and those beliefs. Thank you for articulating so well what I cannot. You cut through the crap, leaving behind all the platitudes and leaving us with the truth!

    • Hi Jen! Aren’t there just so many beliefs that we think are true, that really aren’t. I can’t imagine what ones I still don’t get. Ha. Well, it’s nice to talk about some of them—and to hear that they resonate with others. Thanks for saying hi=)

  64. Thank you for this, it gave me a good laugh and the lift I needed today. I have been one of those “oh oh I’m not happy today I must be doing something wrong and yep I’ve done the gratitude journal thing. And oi vey is it ever tiring trying to be “Lil Miss Ray of Sunshine” every single solitary day.

    I recently hit the wall of “not happy” and I actually allowed myself to wallow in the sadness, tears and blahs. It has been a tough hard journey but it has been the best teacher of who I am and what I want in my life. I made a major move overseas thinking I would be happy there and have realised “Nope not for me” plus a series of events have hammered me since being here (lots of tears and tantrums). It dawned on me that I had given my power to another person (willingly, lovingly, blindly); well I’m taking back my power starting now (well 3 days ago actually). I am packing organising my flights and heading home, I will arrive with no idea of what to do, no money left and a little scared but, it’s okay. The power to be me is where it needs to be…with me, the rest I’ll muddle through =)

    • Oh Janet, you sure are in the middle of “one those times.” Being overseas can be really challenging. When I first arrived here—I was by myself for a long time so didn’t have relationship issues—but boy was I lonely. I remember crying while walking down Main Street in Santa Monica. I was thinking, what am I going to do?! Yay, for wallowing long enough to tap into what feels right. Feels good doesn’t it, in an unpleasant sort of way. The best of wishes to you. XX

  65. Hi, Lisa,

    So much I would like to say. I love your insight, humor, drawings, and more. And I really needed this post on being “positive.” I’ve been consuming a lot of information on Law of Attraction lately. Abraham-Hicks is interesting and sometimes helpful. I can accept a lot of it to a point. Then I get to the point of seeing that, according to some, I’m supposed to take responsibility for my own abuse, neglect, etc. Hmmm. And what about the weeks-old baby in a Third World country that dies covered in dust and flies? That baby chose that life and death? Oh, yeah, and thousands and thousands of them did. And why, again? Just how did that infant “learn” something from that? As you can see I think “too much.”

    I’ve been labeled as “wallowing.” I refuse to play “fake” games. I have worked hard to understand myself, where I came from, how I developed. I have worked hard to make changes. I know myself. I am real. I am working on looking at more of the good stuff and not being so hard on myself. It all takes time.

    I have PTSD from a horrible childhood. I am a survivor, stronger than most. Pretending those things didn’t happen doesn’t improve me. It took me many years to “remember” the things that happened and see how they played into the nightmares, night terrors, depression, suicidal behaviors, and thoughts.

    Yes, I believe people can control their thoughts. It is damn hard work. I was programmed to be negative, cynical, sarcastic, rebellious. It’s like learning a whole new language and becoming fluent, with no mistakes. EVER. Not sure I am up to it. I have taken a lot of the edges off. More work to do.

    Yes, I believe in looking at goodness and light. “Turn your face to the sun, and the shadows fall behind you.” Makes perfect sense.

    I just don’t believe in ignoring reality, and I can’t stand when people spend more time in fantasy than reality. And then tell you that you are raining on their parade.

    How would we know what light is without darkness? We need balance. No negativity at all EVER is not balance. I am a former journalist, police reporter. I saw a little too much darkness. It matched my childhood, felt comfortable. I didn’t realize it at the time, why I was attracted to that stuff.

    Now, I am turning off the “news” more and more. I see it is there, but I don’t need to listen to every last word of it as I did before. It makes me sad, frightens me, and I realize it will always be there, without me to hear it and feel the pain. I know now what Jesus meant when he said, “There will always be poor among you.” I understand what Wayne Dyer means when he says that no amount of him feeling bad will change the pain and horrible events people go through.

    I continue to change and grow. Being told to “Think positive,” has never been the impetus to the growth and change. How could that be?

    Lisa, you have a wonderful soul that pours into our writing and drawings. A comic strip would be a wonderful project for you. It should be on good ole clinical depression. You know it well, can bring much needed humor to it, and can spread the truth at the same time. It is one of the most prevalent illnesses of humans. Just think how many people would relate to it and learn.

    Thanks for the work you do to help us keep moving forward. I will continue to follow your work and be appreciative, if not terribly positive. 🙂

    Love to you,

    Maria

    • You’re so welcome, Maria, I have been thinking about doing another depression post, thanks for the gentle nudge. I think it’s so misrepresented—and that this makes it so much scarier than it already is. And thank you too for sharing your story. Sounds challenging, finding that balance between moving on and being real. And somehow learning to love however we are at the moment. Lots of love and easyness to you, courageous woman! (And to all courageous men and women here!)

  66. Hi Lisa,

    I am a bit late on reading your post… I am always glad when I do get to it though. You are such an inspiration in your writings and I love the illustrations. Your wordsare such a great reminder in my daily life and I thank you!

    Candice

    • Hi Candice—just noticed your comment, must have slipped past my high tech comment surveillance system! Anyway, sorry for late reply. Oh look at that. We’re both a bit “late” on it. Of course, we’re not. But you know what I mean. Thanks for saying h. Lots of love and ease to you. XX

  67. Can I share a wee poem. I promise it’s short .

    Good things:

    It occurs to me in this dark dark gloom
    That beside that mossy rock
    Under the snails trail
    Is a deep dark dank
    Hell
    Where good things start to grow.

    🙂 great post Lisa.
    I do feel like smacking fake positivity out of people, it’s so sad when some says something sad and pretends as if it’s positive.

  68. This is such a thought provoking and eloquently written piece on how to view psychology. Love it!

  69. Genius. Another great article Lisa. I am new to your site, but I love your blogs, I admire your clarity of thought and how easy and enjoyable they are to read.

    I look forward to reading more.

    Gee

    • Thanks Gee. Really appreciate it. Good to have you here. And just to so you know—in day to day life my thoughts are often a jumble, these are my best, clear-after-re-writing-a-thousand times thoughts!

  70. Cath Walshe says:

    Hi, great article, great explanation re correlation and causality. Scientists can certainly interpret data to draw wrong conclusions, scientists are only human. When they “flip flop” though, that is part of the process, more data comes to light and new conclusions are drawn. The important thing is that they are happy to say oops, got that wrong, looks like it’s this instead. That’s how we progress!

    • HI Cath – thanks for your comment. (I somehow missed this one, so this is a VERY belated reply)

      You’re right, that is how we learn! I’m not convinced the scientific model is good for everything, but thank you to science for SO many things. (Like my laptop—I’m always grateful to science when I think of my laptop.)

      XX
      LIsa

  71. Good Morning,

    Your articles are great Lisa, I find them uplifting and helpful. I am currently going through a really rough patch in my life right now full of loss and depression. Reading your articles and short books have given me some positive thiughts and energy that have helped me make it through some days. I keep your articles and when I need to I re-read them for some positive thinking. I tend to feel the most depressed when waking up so I have tried to make it a point to read positively in the morning along with a morning prayer which has helped me get going. I am looking forward to reading more of your articles and getting a chuckle out of your drawings as well. Thank you for doing what you do.

    • Thanks for saying hi, Greg! Wonderful to hear from you, and that you’re enjoying the articles and getting a chuckle out of the drawings:) Warm wishes to you!!

  72. Hi, Lisa,

    I just found you last week and have bought your Big Calm cards, some magnets and signed up for your Do Nothing course. Love at first sight!

    Sue

  73. Angus says:

    Couldnt agree more when it comes to individuality and what is normal for a person. Your post on the normality of negative thoughts was really special to me. Thanks

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