Are you a member of the Bright Side Brigade? I’ve been a member of this relentlessly cheerful group for ages, but just realized it. I noticed that, in every conversation where I described a bad or distressing experience, I finished by spilling out a bright side or silver lining to the whole mess.
Mind you, I’ve always liked the “Chin up…sunny side of life” approach, but I think many of us are overdoing it. All our tales of woe now have a mandatory bright side. Yesterday a friend said, “Yup, my front tire blew out on Route 43, and I was trapped in this deep, smelly ditch for two hours, but – lucky me -- I scrounged up half a Pop Tart to gnaw on for the wait. Blueberry!”
Many believe that such a knack for finding the silver lining is an indicator of good cheer and good mental health. That idea is fine up to a point, but if I’m finding a sunny side to 90% of my bad experiences, I’m more likely delusional than sane. My new approach is to let the bad be bad and eliminate the phony bright side. I now find that describing a rotten time as truly bad, with no silver lining, is exhilarating. The truth will set you free. An instructive example:
Weak version: “Yeah, it turned into cold rain for most of the picnic, but at least I remembered my parka.”
Better version: “Probably the worst picnic of all time.”
In the example, the weak, bright side speaker ends up conflicted about how bad this lousy picnic really was. This produces a jumbled mind. The better speaker gives a satisfying, straight-shooter account of the day, sweeping aside the crummy picnic and clearing her mind to move on to the next topic.
Do you want to join me and beat a hasty retreat from the Bright Side Brigade? As a start, I suggest you drop from your patter a classic bright side bromide: “I shouldn’t complain – there’s so many out there who have it so much worse.”
For years, this chestnut of saving grace has brought a dull thud to countless exchanges across the globe. One of my bucket list items is to go a whole week without hearing this gem.
Remember, telling a personal story that’s all bad doesn’t make you a Debbie Downer. Maybe if you reeled off six gloom-bombs in a row, your friends would flee, but that misery spree is likely not your style. You are in the normal range when your tales of woe make up 15% of your total output.
As you consider fleeing the Bright Side Brigade, remember that it won’t be easy. Old habits die hard. It’s likely you’re pleased about finishing your downbeat stories with a bright, silver lining. You say it raises your spirits and gives relief to your weary listeners. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you really mean business, you must break from the past, raise your storytelling game, and keep the bad completely bad, right to the finish. Yes, the prospect of all this hard work is surely a daunting challenge. But just think – there’s so many out there who have it so much worse.
Essayist Jim Crowe is an Albany Resident
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