Friday, September 2, 2011

Happy Writers: Deciding To Be Positive

When I was younger, I had a bad attitude. Okay, sometimes I still have a bad attitude. But as a teen I was particularly cynical and sarcastic. It was my comfy shell, a way of protecting my seriously fragile feelings from the bullies who so enjoyed messing with me. Because if I pretended it didn't hurt, pretended it didn't matter, maybe it wouldn't. And after awhile it worked. I totally faked myself out. I became as hard on the outside as I needed to be. As the Simon & Garfunkel song said—I was a rock. An island. People only brought pain, so I never let them get close enough to do their damage.

As you can probably imagine, the advice I most hated at the time was, "You can choose to be happy. Attitude is a choice."

I wanted to punch every adult that told me that. I wanted to scream in their faces, "YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW MUCH I HURT." I mean, c'mon, do you really think telling me that will help? Thank you for pointing out that I'm not pleasant to be around—it makes me feel much better! Because I didn't know that. Hell, I don't even like to be around myself! Not surprised others can't stand me, since that's kind of my goal. Can we be more obvious?

Well, truth be told, I still hate when people tell me that. Not because I don't believe it, but because I KNOW it's true. I really do. I know a person can change their attitude if they want.'s not so easy for some people. I have anxiety—social anxiety in spades, mixed with a fear of failure, some OCD (heavier on the Obsession side, leading to catastrophizing and then panic attacks), and a lifetime of low self-esteem tied to a lot of bullying. I don't say this to make excuses, but because I don't think a lot of people understand how HARD it can be to change your attitude when that is the exact kind of mental disorder you face.

So I want people with anxiety or depression or other mental hurdles to know that I get this—I get how much it can hurt when someone says, "Well, just STOP BEING SAD. Duh." And then you want to burst into tears because you would LOVE to not be like this, and you are trying so hard not to be but obviously it's not working and people just don't understand.

It sucks, it really, really sucks. But the thing is, even though I have received that advice at the worst possible moments, it doesn't negate its verity. We CAN change our attitudes. I know this to my core, because I have done it, both for better and for worse.

Is it hard to change my attitude? YES. Very hard, in fact. It can be a full-time, weeks-and-weeks-long battle to beat back my negative, anxious tendencies. For me, it is so much easier to let those dark thoughts take hold, to play with them and let them hurt me. Sometimes, it takes every ounce of willpower I have to decide that I will smile instead of cry, that I will see the good and not the bad.

But you know what? It's worth it. Being happy—even when it feels like the hardest thing in the world—is always better than giving into the anxiety. I wish I had the strength to do it all the time, but I haven't given up yet and nor do I intend to, though sometimes I don't even realize when I've fallen back into it again.

Just this week I was emailing a friend who has also been struggling with her writing, and I told her she needed to DECIDE to have fun. The second I wrote that, I was like, "Dude, tell that to yourself, Miss Whiner." I have been telling that to myself since then. And guess what? I'm feeling better. Not perfect, but better. Because I am stronger than I think, and I've had years of practice in the willpower department.

So as much as I hate hearing it, being positive, happy, optimistic is a choice. The choice is harder for some than it is for others—and, boy, do I know that—but in the end being a happy writer is entirely up to you. I wish you luck in getting there.


  1. So true. I can remember being that teenager, but I also know, even then, that I was capable of being more than a pouty little biatch. I was just lazy...and maybe a bit melodramatic :)

  2. "social anxiety in spades, mixed with a fear of failure, some OCD (heavier on the Obsession side, leading to catastrophizing and then panic attacks), and a lifetime of low self-esteem tied to a lot of bullying"....Do you suppose it's that kind of background that pushes us to write? We've already learned to deal with rejection, what's one more?

    Yeah, no - still hurts.

    But it's funny (not ha-ha, of course) how many writers I meet with those same emotional stressors.

    Yet we persevere.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. CPatLarge, perhaps! Writing has always given me a place to say what I sometimes can't vocalize. It calms me down at times, but mostly it gives me a safe place to play out my struggles, I suppose. It helps me understand myself.

  4. I got that all the time (still do, far too often). What people don't seem to realize is that they're acting like emotion occurs in a vacuum, and that it can come across to the person they're speaking to as meaning their hurt feelings don't mean as much as not offending the person who hurt them.

    "Be happy!" It doesn't matter that so-and-so said or did what they did. "Be happy!"

    All the while, it seems like no one cares at all about making sure so-and-so can't keep inflicting bad things on people because the burden of happiness is always on the one being made miserable. It's easier to tell people to act happy so there's no hint of a problem than dealing with the problem so being happy isn't work.

    Yep. I was an angsty teen, too.

  5. I suffer from social anxiety too, and this is a great post. It's not easy to overcome dark thoughts, but it can be done.

  6. Catching our thoughts when they are unhelpful is possible and so necessary to having a more optimistic view of life. Being willing to follow your thoughts and catch yourself going to the dark side is a great commitment to make with yourself!!

  7. This is such a great post, and something I've been needing to hear. Thanks, Natalie!

  8. Wow--all I can say is Amen to all that! every last word..., I'm going to walk away from my computer and decide, yet again...

  9. =))
    thank you.
    I'm not a writer. just a girl.
    and I'm happy.
    it feels good.
    Goodluck !

  10. Yup. Truer words were never spoken.

    "You can't always control what happens to you but you can control how you react to it."

    Those words are true also. I've remembered them ever since Frasier said them on the Frasier show, years ago. Isn't it funny how life-changing stuff can come from the unlikeliest sources? :)

  11. This is a wonderful post. I have been learning this so much lately, especially in regards to my self esteem and writing. It is super hard to do, but I can get my mind into a good place if I try hard enough. And it's good for me! The happier I am, the more I get things done, and the more I get things done, the happier I am. It's a cycle!

  12. My grandmother always told me "Life is what you make it..." and she is absolutely right. If I am miserable, everything looks dismal. If I am positive, there is a difference in the air.

  13. I love this post. While I believe very much in the power of a person to change themselves and their lives, it doesn't help to be told to "be happy" if they haven't figured out what it is in their lives preventing them from being happy and how to resolve that. Being happy is the goal. Figuring out the actions needed to make that happen is the first step.

    And those who suffer from anxiety, depression, or any other disorder have a whole other range of challenges. Those must be tackled in their own ways, too.

    The choice to be happy is one part of it. I believe it's the most important part, because without that will and commitment it won't go anywhere, but it's also the easy part. There will always be challenges. Just keep working to overcome them.

  14. Writing is one of two forms of therapy for me. If I'm mixed up or down, writing or Zumba will be enough to kick me out of it. Then again, I don't have depression, nor do I have to deal with so many things other people do. I'm very lucky.

    I love what you have chosen. Your blog is one of the most positive I have found, and you inspire me every day!

  15. I can relate to this so much -- especially the obsessing and catastrophizing. I've been trying really hard for the last, I don't know, ten years or so to get better about not giving in to frustration and reminding myself that I can choose to be happy or, at the very least, content.

    I see the same struggle in my children, and it makes me work all the harder to be a role model. And then sometimes I slip, and I feel bad about it, and it starts to feel really awful, and... I have to take a DEEP breath and slow down.

    Really, really, a great post Natalie. Thank you!

  16. I'm starting to think the same package of mental angst is required of writers. Not just a little angst, but the whole kit and kaboodle. In the throes of it, it's impossible to decide to be happy--deciding to live through it is about all I'm capable of.

    But then the morning comes and happy is back on the menu. I really need to remember to place my order more often.

    (And on days I want to hide, there's always the #hermitclub, and I can call a non-meeting! Hah!)


  17. I can relate to your post as well, Natalie. Pretty much my entire school life through high school was a living hell.

    We all hear that "life is what you make it," and that "you are responsible for your own happiness." But maintaining a lemonade perspective in the moment when life is giving you lemons can be difficult.

    One of my own sayings is, "Be known for your actions, not your reactions." Learning to control our reactions at the time they begin is the challenge. Doing that takes practice and deliberation, and it doesn't always work. However, I believe that skill is one of the keys to achieving happiness in your life.

  18. This is such a great post. And it's so true: happiness IS a choice, even if sometimes it's much easier said than done.

    As for writing, I tend to turn to it into work. I need to remember that it can be play too. We get to tell stories - how cool is that? I will DECIDE to have fun! Thanks for the reminder :-)

  19. This is something my husband tries to tell me all the time. I love your very realistic take on it. I used to let emotion completely rule my life, letting it ruin days and even weeks. Now, I have a better handle on myself, because it is a choice. I admire you for making the choice when it's so hard for you. Thanks for the reminder-- and for the example.

  20. It's a shame that Teen Natalie didn't know Teen Jade. They could've been angry and sarcastic together.

    Sometimes my negativity consumes me, and it's so easy to wallow in it. Like you, I have to really make a conscious decision to focus on happier things. It's a struggle, but it is worth it! I wish I was a naturally happy person, but I've made peace with it. Mostly.

  21. Great post Natalie, and you are so right, life is what you make it. I have had to change my ways over the past year, often we learn the hard way, but, you are a better person for it.
    I posted my link a couple of posts back not sure if you have seen it.

  22. Being positive is a challenge for me as well. My husband always tells me to stop being negative and glass half empty but it's easier said than done for some of us. But at the same time we have to try, even though it's hard. I too wish I was a naturally happy person--I think I'm always gonna struggle with the negativity taking over--but I know I have to try. It's no fun to sit in the dark forever.

    Thanks for this post. :)

  23. I have been thinking a lot about a quote from Nelson Mandela the last few weeks, I finally found the quote while trying to look for something else in the shed. It seems appropriate to share here:

    'Our worst fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us. We ask ourselves, "Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?" Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God; your playing small doesn't serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine we consciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear our presence automatically liberates others.'
    Nelson Mandela

    Fear, negative thoughts,an inabilty to move forward is something I can struggle with. We all need to remember we have great things to contribute to those around us. We are not all going to be famous, published or achieve world domination, but we do have a circle of influence, that can have a immense impact.

    Thanks for allowing me to be part of your circle of influence through this blog.

    Melissa ;)

  24. My twenties was an exercise in learning this lesson. And I periodically have to be reminded, too. But it's hard enough when I have a fairly level baseline to do this, so I give you all the credit in the world for pushing through your anxiety to find a new equilibrium.

  25. You are exactly right and have expressed the same opinion that I have tried to convey to others.

    When we're young we have the time to waste on bad attitude and people will often pander to us, but as we get older the stakes of time get higher. We are setting the example of the benefits of being positive.

    To be a negativity vampire sucks the blood of life and happiniess out of our world. When we are positive, and make the choices to be positive and as happy as we can manage to be, we are making a contribution that makes for a better world. I opt for the latter.

    Tossing It Out

  26. Thank you for such a truthful post so compassionately presented. It is so tempting to sink into the "dark" place sometimes when life and its pressures feel too big, but we miss so much when we do. Control over our attitude is sometimes all that stands between us and potential joy.