The Oxford Dictionary defines positivity as “the practice of being or tendency to be positive or optimistic in attitude”. Interestingly, the illustration of the word is ‘pupils draw power from the positivity of their teachers’.
The difference between positivity and optimism, however, is that to be optimistic you need only hope and believe that things will be good, whereas positivity implies a level of work to improve the chances of a good outcome.
Positivity gets a bad press. It sometimes seems as if it’s uncool to be upbeat and positive in workplaces where the prevailing mood is gloom, and while the popular stereotype of the moaning teacher is just that – a stereotype – that doesn’t mean that examples of the type don’t exist. There is a tendency to see positivity as naivety, and a more cynical attitude to the world, generally looking for proof that it is not a great place and one you can make wry cracks about, is much more reassuring. Perhaps the explanation is that if you paint your world as less than brilliant, and the chances of changing it virtually nil, then you can’t be unpleasantly surprised when things go wrong, or when your efforts fail to bring about significant change for the better. It was always bound to be that way because things are inherently not great. Nothing to do with me, mate. Just the way things are. A less than positive outlook can, according to those people who adopt it, act as a shield against things going wrong.
I would suggest to everybody, however, that it is time to be brave. Step up to the present and the future and accept that you can, through a small shift in your outlook, make some things better with a positive attitude.
Indeed, research shows that in many areas, having a positive attitude has surprising benefits. Researchers continue to look into the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health and well-being, and it appears that there are few areas in which positive individuals cannot derive advantages. They tend to live healthier lifestyles, perhaps because they look forward to a long life. They have increased life-span, lower rates of depression and distress and consequent better psychological well-being, better coping skills during times of hardship and stress and therefore better resilience. Physically they have better cardiovascular health and are less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, and they are even less susceptible to the common cold.
All of which is very desirable and particularly important for everyone living in these ‘interesting times’, but especially important for young people and those who are charged with educating them.