Too much sunshine?
As a follow up to a recent presentation given by a colleague and myself on making our office more innovative, I started sending a weekly e-mail around the office featuring an inspirational TED talk. From our discussion it was clear that one of the important aspects of making ourselves more creative and innovative lies in our attitude to our work, and on our access to inspiration.
TED talks can be a great source of inspiration, because of the ideas they contain, but also because of their sense of optimism about how we can tackle some of society’s great challenges, or even some of the great challenges in our own personal lives.
Optimism and enthusiasm can carry us a long way in our lives, and enable us to keep going when things get tough. There’s lots written about this, and even for the most ardent rationalist, it’s not a big logical leap to see how your attitude can affect your performance, or even what you choose to do in the first place.
But I sometimes wonder if you can have too much of a good thing.
As an example – taken alone a good TED talk can be really uplifting – but if you add them all together you might get something like this (yes, this is a real video made by TED about the 2012 conference, and as far as I can tell, not intended to be satire.) Suddenly this all looks rather superficial and saccharine and not deep and inspirational at all.
So while an optimistic and positive outlook is a good thing – you can also have too much of it. Rather like a rich chocolate cake where one piece is delicious, maybe even two, but any more will leave you feeling a little sick.
Here are a few reasons why too much feel good is not that good at all.
1. If you are not dissatisfied with the way things are currently and are willing to make the best of it, to muddle along, to accept your friends, or you boss or your colleagues the way they are – then how can you summon the energy to do what is needed to make things better. Sometimes you need a bit of frustration, disappointment, or even occasionally a bit of righteous anger to put the fire in your belly to change things.
2. It’s good to believe in yourself, and that you can achieve the impossible, to change the world. But sometimes you need to know when something is really impossible, or when you should step back, accept that what you are doing isn’t going to work any time soon, and go do something else which is more likely to have an impact, or which will help you preserve your mental health. Otherwise you might stick with doing the wrong thing for too long. Believing in your unbounded capabilities despite all evidence to the contrary can also make you narcissistic, and just plain insufferable.
3. It’s good to try to trust and believe in others, indeed most societal advances depend on collaboration to some extent, the downside of always and unquestioningly seeing the good in others will quickly lead you to be taken advantage of. Seek to listen better and to understand and empathize by all means – but don’t let understanding fool you that everyone else and what they do is good for you.
3. Feeling happy, as with any other pleasurable experience wears off after time if you get too much of it, and you will need to work harder and harder just to keep where you are. Sometimes, to better appreciate the good, you need to experience the bad. You need to feel sad or disappointed sometimes, if only so that when something good comes along you can really appreciate it for what it is, rather experience life as an undifferentiated emotional haze. Many great inventions and particularly works of art have been born out of sadness. So enjoy your melancholy and take advantage of it.
4. Pursuing happiness itself as a goal probably won’t work as you will be thinking so much about whether you are happy or not, that you won’t have time to experience it when it comes along. Batter to do something, or put yourself in a situation where you can feel positive than to try to focus on being positive when you are not really feeling it.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe we can make the world a better place, and that I have the potential to play some small part in making this happen – and I believe you can too. I also believe we need to dream a little and push ourselves to achieve more than we believe we can. I also want to believe (despite all evidence to the contrary) in the inherent goodness of humankind. And most of all I believe that believing these things is good for me.
But if I have to listen to another self-help lecture telling me to think positive, or another round self-congratulatory and unyieldingly positive Facebook update or tweet, I think I’m going to be sick.
On the other hand if you can’t get enough of it here’s the song my kids were rehearsing non-stop for weeks for our school play – “Think Positive” from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If Charlie Bucket can do it, why can’t you! (Just keep playing it over and over and over)