These feelings are coming to serve you 

‘Positive vibes only’ is a very modern mantra but what if we accepted that hardship and failure are simply part of life? How would this acceptance change our experience? By Al Reem Al Tenaiji

My dad always says: ‘Wise is the one who recognises failure as one of the pathways to success’. It’s a phrase that I think of often. In studying the philosophy of Kintsugi, I have learned that that while perfection is sometimes attainable, the pursuit of it makes us boring and artificial. In life, it is our differences, our shortcomings and our imperfections that connect us to humanity. It is these that make us real and interesting.  

‘Positive vibes only’ is a very modern mantra. Through social media we are bombarded with posts beseeching us to ‘look on the bright side’, to ‘just choose happiness’, to ‘never give up!’. We all know that our mindset dictates the way we feel. But what about when life is just downright hard? What happens when our reality is not all sunshine and rainbows? The times when our dreams are crushed, and we are faced with a whole new set of decisions we are utterly unprepared for? At times like these, super-positive phrases may actually be detrimental.

Positivity overload can become toxic when it prevents us from processing our emotions. It’s harmful to mask deep and painful situations with brave smiles and optimistic statements instead of validating our struggle, hardship and pain. It is essentially denial and by doing it we are distilling the rich and complex human experience to a feel-good meme. Quite simply, some days are better than others. 

In our lives, we all experience loss, both physical and our visions for our future. When we face genuine, hard decisions, we tackle stressful uncertain situations; things can go a very different way than the hopes we carry in our hearts.  Instead of invalidating our struggle with a ‘good thoughts only’ hashtag – a band-aid at best – the way forward is to acknowledge our pain, uncover our fears and accept our ugly, raw, scary feelings for what they are. All the psychological tools in the world cannot work against someone in denial. What if instead of saying: ‘don’t be so negative’ we say: ‘it’s ok to feel bad; suffering is the beauty of our life’. Instead of saying: ‘good vibes only,’ we say: ‘all vibes are welcome here’. Instead of feeling that ‘failure is not an option’, we admit that failure is simply part of life. 

For me, practicing the philosophy of Kintsugi revealed the art of realistic optimism. It allows us to own our vulnerability and failure, to give these parts of us a voice while also making sure that negative feelings do not dictate how we move forward in our journey. It’s about acknowledging all of life’s good and challenging times, while refusing to be driven by fear. 

Most psychologists agree that emotions carry information about our inner world. They can shed light on something important or explain a need to protect ourselves. If we treat and value all feelings equally – everything from joy to sadness, regret to anger – we can hear what they have to say. Even negative emotions can bring positive outcomes in the end. 

During challenging times, it’s essential to engage in self-care practices, to advocate for yourself when you need something to change and take a break when you need one. Carry your hope in your heart, knowing that while you will do all you can, some things are simply out of your control.