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The Down Side of the Up Side

I sometimes run into delightful clients who are always straining to look on the bright side of life. They’re upbeat, positive, and prefer to see the good rather than the bad in people and situations. They’re the opposite of gloom and doomers who are certain to find the one cloud in an otherwise blue sky. Although you might think that being upbeat and seeing the good while ignoring the bad is a great way to be, it’s not. Both perspectives have pluses and minuses, but neither is a healthy way to be all the time.

Disregarding what’s negative can be as unhealthy as discounting what’s positive because it creates stress, and stress can lead to abusing food. Here are two examples. Suppose you meet a person who’s often rude, controlling, and critical of you. You might like the fact that this person is intellectually gifted, has a wry sense of humor, or stands up for the little guy, and you therefore might avoid noticing qualities which hurt you, such as his or her needing to be right or insisting on making all the decisions in the relationship. Or, in another example, let’s say that you’re dying to go to Bermuda because you’ve heard fabulous things about it and have found a great travel deal, but ignore the fact that you’ll be visiting in the midst of hurricane season. In each of these instances, your Pollyanna attitude puts you at risk by making you blind to reality.

People consistently avoid recognizing negatives for a few reasons. They may have been raised by parents with this perspective and know no other way to be. Moreover, because they’re so pleasant to be around, their sunny attitude gets reinforced. Or sometimes they’ve been raised by downbeat, pessimistic parents who unconsciously depended on them to brighten their sad, empty lives. Many were scolded for speaking negatively with comments such as, “Don’t say that,” “You don’t feel that way,” or “You mustn’t think/speak ill of others.” Hear that long enough and you’ll stop looking for or recognizing the downside of anything.

Mostly people who minimize or refuse to see what’s wrong and only see the what’s right do so because it’s uncomfortable for them to face reality squarely. Taking off the blinders is uncomfortable because it shakes ups their world and might mean making changes and create discomfort for others. Most of the time, this Pollyana attitude is so ingrained that folks don’t even realize they have it. A big tip off is stress eating when things don’t work out over and over. If you’re often disappointed and generally not getting what you want out of life, it’s time to consider that you might look at the world exclusively through rose-colored glasses—and take them off.