It’s time to focus on the positives, says Lucy Mangan.
Sometimes you really have to draw a line, you know? I did it with myself two weeks ago when, after I learned that we import most of our toilet paper, I found myself browsing on Ocado so that I could get what probably is actually known as ‘a sh*t ton’ of the stuff delivered and start my apocalypse stockpile.
I stopped. And I took a moment to think about how easily I buy into every catastrophic narrative out there, every bad vibe, every negative take on anything. It slots, so comfortably, right into the defeatist nature that has been mine since birth. My mother still tells the tale of one-year-old me hanging motionless in my bouncy harness, “as if you had no hope at all that anything good could be about to happen”.
But I am older now – old enough to set up Ocado orders! That’s adulting, that is! – and I have realised over the years that this attitude does nobody any good. Particularly, if counterintuitively, in difficult times. This attitude has never filled my existence with joy and interest. And now, perhaps, it is actually harmful. Why? Because taking the easy option – throwing up my hands, accepting that ‘everything is terrible’ – prevents me from ever engaging with or changing anything.
Collectively, too, the temptation is always to embrace the negative. Rage feels cathartic AND it makes for better tweets and funnier memes. You don’t want to be coming across as all butterflies-and-cupcakes on social media. Imagine the shame! But this is obviously unjustifiable. It’s bad for our individual and our shared health on every level. And so I, you, we, have to step up and change our mindsets.
We need to get back into the habit of rejecting the worst and back into seeking out and recognising the good. I have been trying. I took a step back from Twitter and all its gleeful-catastrophising. I turned my face away from hysterical hot takes and from stories that sadden without adding to any useful store of knowledge. At first it felt weird and wrong and slightly embarrassing not to be greeting everything with a sophisticated snort of derision and dismissal, but to keep hunting for things that suggest the world is not going to hell in a handcart – or at least not without at least a few people trying to put on the brakes.
Then it became strangely intoxicating to find things to build up rather than simply joining in with another tearing down. This morning I even managed to give the government a mental nod of approval when I read about some of the Ofsted improvements they are making, instead of silently screaming, “Too little, too late, scum!” and setting fire to another picture of Boris Johnson. That’s real growth, people, trust me.
Being optimistic, staying active and engaged, seeking out and seizing the good and then running with it to add it to a pile of something better… that is work. It takes energy, time, and going against the grain of circumstance, expectation and, often, against personal inclination, too. But like anything that needs work, the benefits are worth it.
As the old song has it: it’s time to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. That was written in 1944, five years into the Second World War, and became a hit. It’s possible they knew what they were doing. Let’s try it their way. What’s the worst that could happen?