I’m a big fan of those inspiring phrases and uplifting quotes that folks post on social media. Lord knows we all need some encouragement from time to time as well as the occasional adrenaline shot of “you can do it” on days when we’re feeling especially low.
There are certain well-intentioned directives, however, that rub me the wrong way. Here’s a sampling:
Live your life with no regrets.
Sorry, but if you’re human, that’s impossible to do, and if you claim you have no regrets, you’re probably kidding yourself. Don’t get me wrong; I understand the intention of this advice and it’s a fine one. We shouldn’t live our lives always looking in the rear view mirror, lamenting what might have been. The past is in the past. We can’t change what’s already been. All true statements.
But I don’t necessarily think it’s unhealthy to examine our regrets—to consider things that we wish we had done differently. Paths we wish we had taken. Words we should or shouldn’t have uttered. Because taking that time to examine past actions might help us to live more fully, more wisely, and more empathetically in the future.
Just so I’m clear, I’m not suggesting that we ruminate on our mistakes, but I also don’t think it’s healthy to live life with blinders on. It’s being honest with ourselves and acknowledging that we’re human but also promising ourselves to do better, to try harder.
Also, regrets are partly about showing accountability, which I don’t think our egocentric society does enough of today. We are quick to shift blame, point fingers, and insist that we did nothing wrong, but I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we would recognize that we all harbor some regret, and that’s okay.
Choose to be happy.
Okay, so I’m all for embracing the power of positive thinking. And believe me, coming from an anorexic background, I’m familiar with the power of negative self-talk and how damaging it can be. The reason I have a bone to pick with this phrase is because I’ve witnessed firsthand the torment of clinical depression. I’ve seen how it can obliterate a person’s mind, body, and soul. Positive thinking and all the pep talks in the world can’t make a clinically depressed person—poof—suddenly become happy. Just like when I was deep in the throes of an eating disorder, I couldn’t be cured by someone shoving food down my throat. It’s just not that simple.
“Think happy thoughts!”
“Focus on the good things in your life!”
“Be grateful for all you have!”
“Choose to be happy!”
Such reaffirming words only prove to make clinically depressed people feel more like a failure because they can’t “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”
All I’m asking is that we be sensitive to those who can’t simply make a choice about being happy because believe me, if they could, they would; the chemicals in their brains won’t allow them to.
Avoid negative people.
Yup, in theory that sounds like a brilliant idea. But realistically, we cannot avoid interacting with Negative Nancys because they’re all around us. They go to our schools. They live in our neighborhoods. They work out at our gyms. They may be a boss or a coworker. They may even be a member of our family.
Sometimes they are an ex-husband or wife, and their attitude may have contributed to the split, but if you share custody of your children, they are forever a part of your life. So you can’t avoid them.
Limiting time spent with negative people as best you can is a wise idea if their pessimism rubs off on you, but remember that your optimism may just inspire someone to shift his grumpy outlook a bit. Think Ebenezer Scrooge.
Acknowledge that every day is a good day.
C’mon, let’s get real. We all know this statement isn’t true. While I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to search for the silver lining in a situation, I think it’s safe to say that some days are just plain awful. The kind of awful where we want to hold our breath, squeeze our eyes shut, and bury ourselves beneath the covers until the dawning of a new and better day.
The day I lost my kid at our yard sale was terrible. The day norovirus had me clinging to my toilet for six hours straight was terrible. The day I filed for divorce was terrible. The day I buried my mom was gut-wrenchingly terrible. Not all days are good, so let’s not pretend that they are.
My sons love the movie Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. In it, the main character says, “You’ve gotta have the bad days so that you can love the good days even more.” Exactly.
Note: This article was first published on the Huffington Post on 5/18/15