The Positive of Negative

The inconveniences and annoyances we face in daily life are countless. Aside from the major challenges of being human (like illness, unemployment, divorce, or death) it is actually the more minor (and reoccurring) irritants popping up in our daily routines that seem to require the abundance of our time, energy, and patience. Even regardless of how good life may be to us in the bigger picture we are still left having to stomach those smaller button-pushing moments that are simply out of our control.

Is grinning, bearing, and stomaching the best we can do?

A major part of my work with clients is emphasizing their supreme right to feel good about their lives regardless of circumstances; that they have the power to embrace every moment and value it as something truly worthwhile. We have a tendency to feel alive and fulfilled only when things are going well for us and we tend to rush passed all of the moments that aren’t so good. The scary part about this though is that these messy annoying experiences are still a part of our lives; when we rush them we rush life as a whole.

It’s likely we’ve all heard the phrase “life is too short.” Such a phrase is often stated while in the face of some sort of negativity we’re experiencing and is meant to help us brush it off and move on. We can break off a bad relationship, we can leave a job that’s no longer fitting, we can sell the houses we outgrow, and we can just as easily alter anything about our bodies that we dislike---life is too short to be anything but happy, right? Well, the brush-off-and-move-on strategy is certainly not a bad one when we have the true opportunity to actually escape a particular negative, but what about those irritants that are reoccurring and simply unavoidable; the smaller less obvious jabs we take throughout the day that we don’t even consider might be changeable? Isn’t life too short to allow these things to get to us too?

When we can’t get away from something that’s bothering us, what do we do? As stated before, we stomach it. And what does “stomaching” entail in such a case? Experiencing a rush of emotion (often frustration and stress) within us that we can’t do anything with except swallow back down. We often mislabel this process “acceptance” and consider it a mature way to handle things in the adult world, but the truth is that it’s just suppression. Suppression isn’t just for the big stuff in life, it happens constantly on a daily basis with the tiny stuff too; always running the risk of mounting into bigger stuff.

Take sitting stopped at a red traffic light for instance---this simple interruption in our day can often be enough to make us NUTS. We must obey this tiny inanimate light-bulb regardless of how late we are for work, or how eager we are to get home after a long day. Thirty seconds of this is long enough to evoke such an eye-rolling rage that is just as soon forgotten the moment the light changes green; only, the rage isn’t forgotten; it’s simply stuffed away just ready to boil right back up again at the next red light to follow. How ‘bout the anger/devastation we experience when our phone battery dies? The sheer panic of missing that one important group text, or the absolute dread that comes over us when we can’t check the “like” count on our recent vulnerable post on social media. And when the weather sucks? We often think of rain as a personal curse put upon us to ruin our plans and often feel like prisoners when we get snowed-in for a couple hours. We can't control any of it; we can only hold our noses and brace our stomachs for impact. Isn’t life too short to be gradually more drained by things like this day by day, moment by moment?

It’s a shame how oblivious we tend to be when it comes to the positive of negative. There are two sides to every story and this includes the one about negativity. Every infuriating red light, dead phone, and rainstorm in fact has a hidden beauty in it that we consistently fail to uncover..

A red light, for instance, is more than just an obnoxious interruption blocking us from getting to the more important things in our day; it is also a gift of rest; it is actual permission for us to do absolutely nothing for 30 seconds except allow our bodies to relax and our busy minds to wander. A red traffic light is a reminder that our lives are happening right then and there and that living isn’t just something that starts once we get to a destination. A red traffic light is a moment of peace if we simply let it be so.

Similarly, a dead phone is more than the infuriating inconvenience of life put on hold; it is also the infrequent opportunity to connect in deeper ways; to give a hug with BOTH (phone-free) hands and to take a peaceful shower without the “dinging” of message notifications going off every few minutes. A dead phone is a moment to reflect on our own thoughts and questions rather than on our responses to others’ thoughts and questions.

And rain--- more than just a messy hindrance and disruption of our meticulously-laid out plans, it is redirection; a chance to refocus our priorities on potentially more important things, like cuddling up under a blanket with the ones we love, or dusting off the books we started reading a couple months back but never got to finish. Rain is a reminder to slow down, let go, and just embrace the moment.

It is my hope that this post will help disassemble our abilities to continue overlooking the positive of negative; that perhaps, those reading won’t ever be able to think about a red traffic light the same way again. It is my hope that we will all start living even the tiniest most annoying moments of life to the absolute fullest, welcoming them as necessary chances to reevaluate where it is we thought we were headed and to be grateful for wherever it is we are. Life is too short to keep missing out on the joys that come from not getting our way.