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Jane Stephens: joyfully looking on the bright side of life

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Happiness is only real when shared. A candle’s light is not dimmed by lighting another. Joy shared is joy doubled.

Wiser people than me wrote these words, but I agree with my heart and soul.

But now there is such a thing as ‘toxic positivity’.

Author of the Everything Psychology Book and media darling Kendra Cherry has warned of the perils of being too sunny.

Apart from being seriously annoying, toxic positivity shames those around, causes them guilt, avoids authentic human emotion and prevents growth.

The ‘good vibes only’ mantra is grating at times of personal distress, apparently.

It can be abusive because it devalues, dismisses and minimises feelings.

Rainbow chasers might even use the notion of positivity to downplay their own abusive actions.

To all that, I say phooey.

I have bounced out of bed, smiled at strangers and sung in the shower almost since birth.

In my early teen years, I read The Power of Positive Thinking and The Diary of Anne Frank and was warmed by the realisation I was not alone in my verve.

That kickstarted a lifelong pursuit of learning more about positivity.

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I call the approach ‘educated optimism’ because it involves feeling the feels and seeing the horrors of the world, but then deliberately seeking out those things to be thankful for.

A meta-analysis of 15 studies involving more than 250,000 patients at Mount Sinai Hospital ascertained that those with higher levels of optimism had a 35 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular events.

Of course, optimists are more likely to take better care of their health, and have fewer illnesses, more stable cortisol levels and less inflammation than pessimists.

An NHS-US Department of Veterans Affairs study found optimists tend to live 11-15 per cent longer.

I have been accused of being naive, utopian, a Pollyanna. I have been told I haven’t had enough of life’s knocks to see the world for real (trust me, I have) and that my pastel-coloured world is built on ignorance and fairy floss.

But positive people are not stupid, nor pious. Our optimism is not blind. We often must work hard to find the diamonds in the dust, because we get dumped in life’s dirt as much as everyone else.

And what is so offensive about sharing sunshine on a cloudy day?

I know this to be true: life is brighter if you can find and share its joys.

Dr Jane Stephens is a UniSC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.

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