Mar 20

A Reality Check


“Show me somebody who is always smiling, always cheerful, always optimistic, and I will show you somebody who hasn’t the faintest idea what the heck is really going on.”  (Mike Royko)


No one who is in touch with reality is happy all the time; difficult times come to everyone.  I’m not a fan of pop psychology, and as much as I recognize the value of positive psychology and a strengths-based approach to life, I encourage everyone to think carefully and critically about what is real.

Positive psychology is a research-based approach to studying people at their best.  It is about understanding the conditions under which people flourish.  It is not a superficial, unrealistic approach to making people feel good about themselves, without grounding those feelings in purpose, an understanding of strengths, and an appreciation for the legitimate challenges of life.

So, just as I’ve written that I sometimes struggle to stay positive, I also want to confess that I enjoy humor that comes with an “edge.”  I like Royko’s observation (quoted above), and I think there is a place for humor that is somewhat cynical, coming with a bite.   I enjoy Dilbert, and I highly recommend that you check out Despair.com, for a fun counterpoint to the motivational posters from Successories.  (I should add that I like Successories, as well, and I’ve returned there, as a customer, repeatedly.)

As some might say, I’m “all about” positivity, strengths-based leadership, and other uplifting ideas.  I believe we can usefully work at our positivity ratio, leading to greater satisfaction with life.  But we also live in a world that has somehow accepted too much incivility and mean-spiritedness.  We know the performance advantages that accrue to positive organizations, yet we see at least as much “leadership” through fear and intimidation, and we encounter bullies at school and in the workplace.

The world is a bizarre, challenging place, and if you don’t recognize the madness, you probably aren’t paying attention.  Still, we can claim choices in our lives that contribute to meaning, purpose, the expression of passion, and a determination to flourish in whatever time and place we find ourselves.  We can be intentional about relationships, and we can take time to feel and express gratitude.  We cannot control the fact that difficult times and circumstances will find us, but we can insist on controlling our reactions and the ultimate outcomes that our lives represent.

Time for a break.