Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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Being positive reaps benefits.

Published: 13 Mar 2012

Recently my son has picked up being negative. It’s an odd experience, because by nature he’s an optimist. I know he is just trying it on, much like clothes. Seeing what fits, what he likes. It will pass.

I have a singular difficulty in explaining to him the benefits of being positive. Being disrespectful or insulting is easy; he understands feelings and how people can hurt them.

Why bother being positive?

The first time he asked me about being positive, and using positive words or thinking about the good and not the bad, I don’t know if I answered well. After a few more times, I think I had a much better answer. It’s very simple.

Would you rather feel happy or sad?

Unfortunately it’s far too easy to slip into a bad habit of being pessimistic. We often times feel negative or simply look down upon things. It’s a lot easier to be this way, which puzzles me. What is it in our genetic makeup that makes us all natural pessimists? It has no benefit.

Just browsing the Internet briefly will yield a trove of disdain and condescension. It’s tragic.

The habit is the challenge.

Explaining a habit is also easy. The Berenstain Bears have taken care of that, thankfully. But a habit of being negative is a level of complexity that most people, child or adult, fail to properly consider. Certainly not to the depth required.

I find that I can put a simple test for myself when I’m thinking about something. I try to remember to ask myself this anytime I’m really thinking about something. It’s an expression I picked up from watching Once Upon a Time in Mexico:

Are you a Mexi_can_ or a Mexi_can’t_?

I also use this with (against?) my wife often when I notice that she is being negative. Regrettably now that I having kids I’ve had to stop saying this. I don’t want them to misunderstand the expression and say it in the wrong context (which, honestly, is probably any context).

I really like the feeling of the expression of just do it. If there is no reason, don’t fabricate one. Be positive. Don’t sabotage an experience. This surprisingly doesn’t come natural and I struggle to enforce the behavior. The right behavior can bring in a lot of related good experiences to what otherwise wouldn’t exist.

Complaining has no value.

I try very hard to temper any negative expression. It’s been very, very hard. I may even have a reputation as a hater, but really I am attempting to be a critic. I think it’s perfectly ok to say something negative as long as it is productive. This is not complaining, it’s critiquing.

I want my kids to have this trait. I want myself to have this trait. I want to spread positivity by pointing out the great things. More importantly, I want to simply ignore the mundane and the not fun parts of what otherwise would be a great experience.

It’s hard to build this habit. I’ve had far too many years being overly negative without adding value. I need to not complain but to critique. I need to be positive and clearly lay out the things I think are good. Then maybe my kids can have this trait, because they’ll get it from watching me.