The new positivity generation: feeling good
A few weeks ago I attended a meetup event that was about how to deepen relationships. As with many meetup events I expected a small group of people wanting to discuss the topic and at the same time connect with each other. Being new to Vienna, that was kind of my need too. To my surprise it turned out to be a very large event with over 150 people between 20-35 years old (with a few exceptions, myself included). All dressed hip (think beards, athleisure and tattoos) and lots of energy. The event was super well organised with impressive young speakers and interactivity. It made me realise that this new generation can really create new things, through collaboration, community and a lot of positive cheerleading of new ideas. My generation seemed to feel grumpy, down to earth and incredibly pessimistic compared to these young people…
The young speakers held 20 min ‚TED-style‘ talks (I would never have been able to speak like that when I was 25!) followed by 10 min questions from the audience. Then the stage was open for anyone wanting to hold a pitch. Courageously more than 7 people one after the other took the stage, sharing their ideas, receiving loud applause and positivity from the audience.
The positivity formula
It was all so positive and energetic that it did make me wonder… I asked the speaker who spoke about the topic of intimacy and vulnerability how people could overcome the fear of getting hurt. A quipped response came: „Choose courage over fear!“ Wow, what insight do these young people have! Although… it sounded straight from a Buddha self-help book. It first made me feel quite old and negative. But then I realised, my question was the only question in the audience that asked about fear and hurt. The other questions were about how to increase community, purpose, empathy etc. My question didn’t fit the positivity formula that, seemed to be the norm at this event.
Social pressure to be positive
I’m all for feeling positive of course but I was wondering how much social pressure exists to feel this way: courageous, purposeful, communal. Even graduate recruitment companies stimulate this type of positive thinking (Challenge Consulting, 2017) and you can download all kind of apps to help you with that (Burns, 2017). What about all those introverts who may prefer to be by themselves? Or for the people with just a normal job – will the lack of purpose not make them depressed? There was an abundance of compassion coaches, public speaking coaches and other advisors at the event. Should they step to them and ‚overcome‘ all that negative thinking quickly? Research by Gabriele Oettingen (2015) shows that trying to think positive all the time can lead to disappointment and depression in the long run. It can cause frustration and, contraversely, reduce the likelihood to reach your goal.
Being ‚on show‘
Also in my coaching I notice a compulsive ‚chirpiness‘ that makes me think young people don’t allow themselves to speak about feeling negative without quickly brushing over it. A self-monitoring to be positive, towards others but also towards themselves. Perhaps this need to feel positive has transferred from the overall need ‚to look good‘ on Facebook and Instagram, not only to daily life but also to an individual’s view of themselves. Perhaps this generation always feels ‚on show‘ (there is always a selfie moment!), socially pressured to portray a positive image towards others and themselves. Negative feelings, if allowed, are only to be felt in private… or with a coach…
This event was about ‚how to deepen relationships‘. A need that, perhaps, is high for a generation that needs to show a positive image of themselves all the time. How can you deepen a relationship when the other only shows a monitored version of themselves?
Looking forward to your thoughts, both positive and negative!
Gabriele Oettingen (2015), „Rethinking Positive Thinking. Inside the New Science of Motivation“, Penguin Random House, New York.
Chantal Burns: „Being content, motivated or happy is not about forcing ourselves to think more positively. Feeling content or motivated is what we naturally experience when our minds are free and unburdened“.
Challenge Consulting: „Graduates: Why Positive Thinking Outweighs Experience“