“The bad feelings will go away. Think positive.”

“See the brighter side of things. Be positive.”

“It will be alright. Just stay positive.”

These are words of encouragement that we have all heard many times. But while there’s truth to these statements, we must recognize that positivity means so much more than simply “being positive”.

Here are three truths that can increase our understanding of true positivity.

Being positive does not mean denying or ignoring unpleasant emotions. This is one of the most common misconceptions about positivity. Some think that being positive means only having pleasant emotions. Because of this confusion, we sometimes feel compelled to ignore feelings of discouragement, sadness, sorrow, and disappointment. We try to convince ourselves that we can’t let these feelings rob us of our positivity. But it simply doesn’t work this way. Life was not designed for us to only feel pleasant emotions. In fact, unpleasant emotions and positivity can co-exist.

We can be disappointed with someone and yet feel so much love for them at the same time. We can feel sad when we fail a test and still hopeful that we can do better next time if we put in more effort. We can feel discouraged and humbled at the same time as we realize what we could have done better. We can feel anxious and have so much trust in ourselves at the same time. So let’s not beat ourselves up when we have these unpleasant emotions because all these are part of our existence. They are essential for our learning and growth. They make success more fulfilling, reunions more joyful, and forgiveness much sweeter. Only when we acknowledge that these unpleasant emotions are part of our lives can we feel truly positive.

Being positive doesn’t mean we don’t see the things that can be improved or are not working. One aspect of being positive is seeing the brighter side of things but it shouldn’t stop there. Being positive also means not ignoring things that are not working, need to be corrected, or can be improved.

If we almost get run over by a vehicle while jaywalking, we can’t simply say, “Thanks goodness, I’m still alive” and walk away. If we are in a relationship where harsh words are thrown at us all the time, we can’t simply say, “I know deep down that s/he is a good person,” and ignore the verbal abuse. If we attend church but are scrolling on our phone the whole time, we can’t simply say “I went to church, that’s good enough”. If we try to build healthy habits but do not succeed, we can’t simply say, “At least I tried. That should count for something”.

Being positive means acknowledging that jaywalking is against the rules and committing to using pedestrian lanes in the future. Being positive means recognizing that we do not deserve maltreatment of any kind and we should have discussions to prevent it from happening in the future or it might also mean moving on from that relationship. Being positive means evaluating our church attendance, reflecting on what we have learned, and committing to give the effort and attention necessary to learn more next time. Being positive means desiring and working towards improvement and progress for ourselves. It means being grateful for who we are, where we are, and what we have, while also looking forward and working towards reaching our full potential.

Being positive is a state of mind, so our positivity can change from day to day. There are many factors that can affect positivity—both internal and external. Others may wonder how a very positive person could react in such a negative way to something or how a friend could commit suicide who had been so positive all their lives. The truth is, positivity is like any other emotion—it can fluctuate, depreciate, stay steady, or even fade away. It’s not like, “either you have it, or you don’t.” So the next time we see someone struggling and think they can get through it without help because they are a positive person, think again. Positivity comes and goes. Sometimes we hold on to it and it stays, other times it fades away even if we try to hold onto it. There are times when the people around us radiate positivity, and it makes it easier to feel that way, but most of the time, we choose to build it from within.

Positivity not only helps us survive in this world, it also helps us thrive if we understand what it is and what it is not. When we understand that it is about acknowledging even our unpleasant emotions, we can better understand ourselves and others, grow and improve ourselves, and perhaps even help others along the way.