April 1, 2014

Why Positive Thinking Could Be Making You Unhappy

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Photo Credit: Ajari via Flickr CC

Are you unsure about your future? Maybe you are disappointed and frustrated that your life is not where you imagined or expected it would be? Maybe you feel trapped?

When we feel stressed, disillusioned, unsure or powerless, we struggle to feel the joy and contentment that we so desperately want and need. We struggle to feel happy. But is ‘thinking more positively’ the answer? 

Many self-development coaches would say yes, that happiness relies on positive thinking, but I disagree. Positive thinking is vital to happiness, but at the wrong time in your journey, forcing yourself to ‘think positively’ can be only momentarily helpful, and at times detrimental. 


If you haven’t been able to acknowledge and accept what is happening in your life, or what has happened in the past, positive thinking acts more like a band-aid over a gapping injury. Just like a band-aid, after a little while it gets mangy, dirty and drops off. So does your motivation around positive thinking when you are in the midst of pain and loss.

So if positive thinking is not the sole path to happiness, what is?

The Four Steps to Happiness

1. Acknowledge

2. Accept

3. Release

4. Discover and Rebuild

Over the coming weeks we will explore each of these steps, but this week we will start by looking at how we can begin to acknowledge what is happening in our lives…what is really happening.

1. Acknowledge

“What we don’t acknowledge keeps us trapped, confined and small.”

What we don’t acknowledge we are actively denying. Not a great place to be. Denial is a big energy sucker as we invest time and energy into resisting what is happening in our lives. Unfortunately what we resist only becomes stronger, keeping us stuck, frustrated and unhappy.  

So why do we sometimes deny what is happening in our lives?

Sometimes we just don’t realise what is happening at that deeper level, and sometimes our present reality (which also encompasses our past) is just too painful. The reason we feel so much pain is because we are experiencing loss. Loss of a whole gamut of things: health, self-confidence, youth, loved ones, innocence, certainty, financial security, relationships, employment…the list is endless.

“Trying to put a positive spin on distressing circumstances before we are ready is a backwards step. Putting on a ‘happy face’ cause us inner distress and it is exhausting! Being real with yourself is the only way forward.”

What does it mean to ‘be real with yourself?’ Being real is about acknowledging what is actually happening in your life, both on the surface and at a deeper level.

For example, you might tell yourself you are too busy to slow down and take time out for yourself. However, when you delve a little deeper you discover what is actually happening…you are to afraid to slow down in case it brings up uncomfortable memories or thoughts. You fear looking ‘lazy.’ You fear saying no, and looking ‘selfish’ or being seen to be a ‘bad’ mother, father, friend, colleague.  

“The first step towards happiness is acknowledging what is at the heart of your struggles.”

Start Today:

“Once we know better we can do better.”

Ask yourself;

  • What am I most stressed or unhappy about in my life at the moment?
  • What am I saying to myself about this situation?
  • Why is this issue or situation causing me so much unhappiness and stress?
  • What is at the heart of this issue? What is actually causing me the unhappiness or stress?

Once you have acknowledged what is actually happening in your life, you can move to the next stage. Stay posted for my article next week, where I will explain why acceptance is the most powerful step in the happiness journey.

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xxx Jess xxx


  1. I really like this. It is so true that trying to be optimistic and happy all the time is a struggle, and unhealthy. I personally think it's great to be optimistic as much as possible, and try to take on the 'don't sweat the small stuff' attitude. However, there are things that happen in life that warrant feelings of sadness, anger, grief, or any other 'negative' emotion. It is so important to feel these emotions. Firstly, I think that feeling and accepting these emotions can drive one to change and hopefully improve the situation. It's a strange feeling but sometimes I gain a feeling of contentment, even in a negative spot. Almost like acknowledging and accepting a negative emotion helps to release tension. Depending on what the situation is, I can acknowledge, accept and then either search for a solution or just feel 'ok' in knowing that it will pass, and I will come out the other end.

    If you deny your own emotions, it's almost like when you talk to a friend and explain how upset you are, and they minimise it. Even though they are probably trying to be helpful, it can leave you feeling unsatisfied and confused.

  2. Hi Samantha,

    Thanks for your comment. Like you, I also believe it is great to be optimistic as much as possible. Yet, at certain times in life we do need to be kind and careful with ourselves, letting our feelings be as they are…not resisting them, not changing them and not suppressing them.

    By ‘going into’ our present reality, we can come out stronger. We come out understanding more about ourselves and the way we engage with the world. We can gain confidence in our ability to cope and be resilient.

    It is so true what you said that acceptance leads to release. This is something I will be looking at next Wednesday in the Happiness Today series. I look forward to your comments. Have a great weekend.

    Love and Gratitude,