I’m no longer embarrassed to admit this: More than a half dozen people have told me over the years they immediately thought of me after watching the classic scene from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall when young Alvie explains to his doctor why he stopped doing his homework.
“The universe is expanding,” the adolescent explains. “Someday it will break apart and that will be the end of everything. What’s the point (of doing my homework)?”
Negative thinking is in my DNA, and the Annie Hall scene isn’t the only time my dour outlook has been associated with that of Woody Allen’s. A Village Voice reporter once likened me to a “Canadian Woody Allen” after watching me perform a comedy routine. I’m Canadian-born and raised.
Negative thinkers like myself have gone through life being mocked and ridiculed and made to feel persona non grata. Debbie Downer, an SNL character pioneered by Rachel Dratch, is a case in point. People naturally gravitate to persons who think positively, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the ubiquitous memes on LinkedIn, “Happy people think happy thoughts.”
Well, it turns out that positive thinking isn’t all that it’s cut out to be. According to this article in the Washington Post, positive thinking people are deceiving themselves into believing that everything is going to be okay.
Chances are that’s not true!
“While cultivating a positive mind-set is a power coping mechanism, toxic positivity stems from the idea that the best or only way to cope with a bad situation is to put a positive spin on it and not dwell on the negative,” Natalie Dattilo, a clinical health psychologist with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told to the Post. “It results from our tendency to undervalue negative emotional experiences and overvalue positive ones.”
Think of it as having “a few too many scoops of ice cream,” Dattilo said.
Reading Dattilo’s insights for me is what I imagine gay people experienced when in 1973 the American Psychiatric Association revised its official manual and removed homosexuality as a “psychiatric disorder.” Millions of men and women deemed mentally ill when they awoke one December 1973 morning were cured of their illness before day’s end.
Negativists like me particularly abhor when we are told, “It will be fine.” Stephanie Preston, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, explains why that phrase is delusional.
“Your stating that there really isn’t a problem that needs to be addressed, period. You’re kind of shutting out the possibility for further contemplation,” Preston told the Post.
Preston is a tad guilty of positive thinking herself. “Contemplation” is a euphemism for what we negativists prefer to call “worrying.”
What’s most heartening for me is that research shows that accepting negative emotions, rather than avoiding or dismissing them, possibly is better for a person’s mental health in the long term. A 2018 study found that people who habitually avoid acknowledging challenging emotions can end up feeling worse.
“People who tend to not judge their feelings, not think about their emotions as good or bad, not try to avoid or put distance between themselves and their emotions, these people tend to have better mental health across the board,” Brett Ford, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and the study’s lead author, told the Post.
Ford’s insights could be a major breakthrough for the nearly 19 million residents living in the Los Angeles area who understand that the commonly asked question “How is your day going?” is an invitation only for positive thoughts. Angelenos acknowledging and honestly sharing their inner feelings could be the cure for their pervasive road rage.
In this era of tolerance and inclusiveness, negativists must no longer be shunned for our negativism. I’m deeming it politically incorrect to show any more Debbie Downer skits, as they stereotype negativists as not being fun to have around. I hereby ban memes and stories promoting the merits of happy thoughts, as they negate the positivity of negative thinking.
I must also respectfully ask that people who are naturally cheery in the morning and prone to sharing positive thoughts or feelings to please shut the f— up.
Seems to me there’s a market for an Olympian worrier like me to “coach” people how to harness negative mindfulness. “The Power of Negative Thinking,” would seem like a natural bestseller. And, of course, there’s demand for an app that helps people focus on all that could go wrong in their lives.
Nah, I probably couldn’t make any of these ideas work.