“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

-Henry Ford

“Be happy! Be positive! Good vibes! Look at the brighter side of things!” So goes the positivity chant in today’s world. But what about the other extreme side? The dark, imperfect and shady side? While we try to escape the dark, ugly or shady side of our life, it is still always there with us. It’s just that we are more comfortable in suppressing those things instead of confronting.

Behind all the great approaches to achieving success and happiness, is the philosophy of paying all the attention to setting things straight. However, this obsession to be happy always or achieving goals/expectations is what makes us more sad and miserable — our relentless quest to eliminate or avoid the negative part of life such as – failure, sadness, insecurity, etc. – the factor responsible for making us feel so insecure, anxious, uncertain or unhappy, in the first place!

What’s wrong with “positive visualization”?

In the world that is increasingly moving towards an individualistic lifestyle, the most common manifestation of our obsession with optimism is “positive visualization”. We always tend to mentally visualize things turning out well, popularly known as the “happy ending” phenomenon.

The greatest enemy of human happiness is the predictable way by which we obtain pleasure and satisfaction. Our overactive “positive visualization” pushes us in taking things for granted. It could be a new electronic gadget or as significant as a marriage; we have a habit of growing accustomed to it. And hence, it delivers joy, but not for a longer time.

If you regularly remind yourselves that you might lose any of the things you are currently enjoying, your value shifts it from the backdrop of your life back to the center stage, this helps you deliver pleasure for a longer time.

Negative approach to HAPPINESS

The alternative approach or “negative path” to happiness means actively opting for a unique and different path towards things we spend most of our lives avoiding. This involves learning the art embracing and finding joy in uncertainty, insecurity and becoming familiar with failure. To be happy (in the real sense), we must be willing to experience negative emotions – or, at least, not try too hard to fight it.

The benefit of negative thinking is that it an antidote to anxiety. How do we usually approach our worries about the future? We seek reassurance; we try to persuade ourselves by thinking that everything will be alright in the end. But in such cases, this reassurance acts as a double-edged sword.

In the short term, this can be wonderful, but it requires constant maintenance. For example, try offering reassurance to a friend who is anxious. A few days later, s/he will be back for more. Worse, reassurance can fuel your anxiety: when you reassure yourself that your fears probably won’t occur, you inadvertently reinforce the belief that it would be catastrophic if it did. In the process, you are tightening the coil of your anxiety, instead of losing it.

Demolishing the distorted picture of SUCCESS

Bookshops and libraries are filled with books and autobiographical books of self-made ‘successful people.’ Sure, they make for an interesting read that conveys a repetitive message – “Make a fortune by your stubbornness and a willingness to take risks.” However, research by the Oxford Management theorist Jerker Denrell suggests that these are also characteristics of unsuccessful people. It’s just that the stories of their failures or unfortunate experiences are not written in books. Rarely there are books written on people who take risks, and they do not receive commercial success.

Happiness that is achieved through thinking positive is fleeting and short term in nature. Negative visualization, however, can generate a vastly more dependable calm in the human mind. Advocators of positivity and optimism need to contemplate the possibility of everlasting happiness by means of embracing failure as a failure and not just a technique for achieving success. A Zen-influenced writer named Natalie Goldberg says, “There needs to be openness and honesty in failure, almost a down-to-earth confrontation with reality, which is often lacking when people aim for higher altitudes of success.” Perfectionism is a trait that people seem to be proud to possess, as it does not seem to be a flaw in character. The bottom line is that perfectionism is nothing but a fear-driven striving to avoid the experience of failure at all costs. For us to fully embrace the experience of failure, and not to tolerate it as a stepping stone to glory, one has to abandon the obsession to “never to put a foot wrong forward.”

The views expressed here are my own and shouldn’t be misconstrued as the views of any of my employers/partners, present or past.

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