Positivity // Authenticity (and the future of this blog)

January 27th, 2013 - filed under: Furthermore » Inspiration

Oh Photo Booth, why you be flippin’ my books around?

Last summer I picked up a book called Bright Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America. It was an illuminating experience, to say the least. The author explores a lot of ideas that had already been bothering the back of my brain, things that just don’t jive with the current conventional Internet wisdom of “Practicing Positivity” (which I, myself, was promoting).

Happiness,” the modern meme goes, “can be yours if only you learn to banish all “bad” thought, cut off ties with “negative” people, and work hard to fill your head with only “good” things.” Essentially, think positive in order to be positive.

And that’s what I tried to do, for years. But when I look back through the archives in this blog, when I read my old entries and then contrast them against the whole-life experience I was having when they were written, I see a disconnect. And, I see in myself some seriously unrealistic expectations of my own humanity. It makes me sad.

Because I feel like I was engaged in this endless cycle, a desperate grasping at happiness, that went something like this:

chasing chasing chasing - catching! - losing – chasing chasing - catching! - losing – chasing chasing . . . and on and on.

From the outside (on the blog) it probably appeared that I was “happy”, because when I did manage to capture those moments, I seized them – almost frantically – and then wrote about them, made Love Lists about them, and generally tried to get maximum efficiency out of each and every one.

Because I knew that just as quickly as they came, they’d be gone.

Practicing my positivity. Chasing chasing chasing. That is not happiness. Happy isn’t something that’s running away from you! Happy, if you have it, is right there when you wake up in the morning. And chasing? That’s what you do when you’re deeply, deeply unhappy, and maybe you don’t even know it.

What is it that makes me deeply unhappy? Well, my 18-year-old self had already figured that out, and I should have paid closer attention. Because countless times I’ve laughed as I told the story of how I graduated from high school, decided I had to be a “grown up”, dyed my hair a normal color and started wearing trendy clothing and got a super straight-laced job. And within 6 weeks, I was miserable. I was so depressed! So I up and quit that job, shaved my head to nothing but fuzz and unpacked all my weirdo clothes, and whattaya know, I was back to feeling great and groovy in no time.

So what makes me deeply unhappy? Trying to be something that I am not.

These days I’m no longer caught up with chasing happy. And I don’t really “practice positivity” anymore, at least not in the way that I used to. Because these days I’m much more concerned with being authentic than I am with being positive, and I’ve learned that for me the most important thing is to never deny my feelings, whatever those feelings may be.

So when I feel sad, which I do from time to time, I don’t label it “bad” and try to banish it. Instead, I jump right in. I put on meloncholy music and I write sentimental stories and I generally just embrace it. I tell my friends, “No thanks, I’d rather stay in tonight,” and I spend some time alone with my sadness.

And you know what? It feels good. It clears out. Whether it’s sadness or anger or hurt or envy, honoring the feelings lets them move right through me. Letting myself feel just exactly what I need to be feeling, makes me happy.

Here’s a really great story about authenticity:

Last spring Waits started a co-op nursery school. At first he loved it – the very first “drop” day I gave him a big pep talk on the way in, and when it came time for me to leave, he pointed at the door and said “Yeah, Mama go.” I had lots of [private] tears, but he had none.

But about 2 weeks in, everything changed. He became distraught when I would drop him, it was like he had a delayed reaction to our separation. The other parents (it was a co-op remember, so all the workers were parents) encouraged me to leave him even though he was upset. And I did leave, and they did what most caring people do when confronted with a child in distress: redirect. It’s what everyone teaches and everyone does, and it certainly seems to make sense at first, except . . . EXCEPT, that when you prematurely discontinue a child’s feelings, you actually deny their completely valid emotional experience. And emotions don’t just disappear. They hide – deep.

So Waits never really did get over my leaving, and most days when they couldn’t calm him down, the other parents would call me and ask me to come pick him up. It got to the point that by our last month at co-op, I didn’t even try to drop him. I was basically paying to work there, since the only time Waits attended was when he accompanied me on my shifts.

Fast forward to autumn and I enrolled Waits in a real preschool. On our first drop day I explained to the teacher about the delayed separation. And just the same as before, he was totally fine when I left him that day. For the first few weeks he was happy, until one day . . . “NOOOOOO MAMA DON’T GOOOOOO!!!” And it was happening all over again.

Now, I chose this particular preschool for many reasons, not the least of which was their very radical approach to childcare. And I trusted the teacher (an old friend, actually) very much. She encouraged me to leave him, and so I did.

When I arrived back at school that afternoon, I stepped out of the car and the first thing I heard was my baby wailing. He had cried the entire time I was gone, she informed me. She was calm. “We’ll try again tomorrow.

The next day it was the same, he screamed when I left (heartbreaking) and wept the whole time I was away. His teacher was enthusiastic “He cries, and we talk about why he’s crying. He’s really good at articulating his sadness. This is great!” It was hard for me, but I trusted her. And so it went on. Every single day.

For a week of crying.

For two weeks of crying.

For – nope, one day it just stopped.

Like magic. Overnight it all ended.

Because see, in this school Waits had been allowed to really feel his big feelings about me leaving, and he was offered a safe space where he could experience those feelings completely. To explore them. And when he realized that I would always come back, and that his teacher was there to love and support him, well, he was able to release those big feelings.

These days Waits wakes up every morning and asks “Is it a preschool day?” because it’s pretty much his favorite place in the world.

Waits needed to be authentic. He was SAD, and he didn’t need to try and “be positive”. He needed to feel his sadness all the way. That’s how he got to the other side of it. And that’s authenticity, brought to you by a 2-year old. So now I’ve learned that when Waits is upset, I shouldn’t try to “cheer him up”. Instead, I pull him onto my lap and hold him close and tell him, “I know, that’s so hard isn’t it? That must feel awful, we can take as much time as you need.” It’s all part of Unconditional Parenting, and watching it work – the amazing way that allowing authenticity can transform this child, well it got me thinking about myself.

So I’ve taken a page from unconditional parenting and applied a sort of “unconditional selfing”. It’s been life changing.

Allowing my own authenticity is one of the best things I’ve ever done. Trusting myself and making difficult choices – sometimes very difficult choices – is not easy. But it feels A-freakin’-mazing. And in all those years I spent “practicing positivity”, I never experienced the sort of sustaining self-love that I do now.

I yam what I yam.”
– Popeye

The truth is that most days I wake up with a smile on my face and I feel excited to get out of bed, because I genuinely love my life. A year ago, I never thought I’d be able to say that and mean it. My life – my self – is a complicated, incredibly human, and sometimes messy thing. It’s definitely not traditional and it doesn’t fit nicely in boxes. But I think it’s beautiful. And by truly accepting it just exactly as it is, I’ve finally found my Happy.

So moving forward in this little web space, I can promise you one thing and one thing only: my authentic self. And that’s scary for me, you know? Because what if you don’t like me?!

I’ve even had people – pretty much everyone actually? – tell me that I should continue to censor, keep the blog always! pure! positive! because that’s what people want. But I don’t think that’s true. I think people want real. Aren’t we all just looking for something real in this world?

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing a series of posts that will catch you up on everything that has happened in the year I’ve been away. Shit will get real. Because I’m not going to bother glossing over the difficult stuff. Not anymore. I’d just rather be me.

And my real life is mostly happy, and most of the time I am really positive. But sometimes I’m not, and sometimes I’m scared, and sometimes I just don’t know what to do with myself. And that’s okay too. At least, I hope that’s okay with you. I guess we shall see.

So there you go. With a dash of trepidation . . .

see you next week.

  • http://www.facebook.com/minnatoots Minna Toots

    About affirmations. I’m convinced that the power of affirmations and their effect on your subconsciousness is very strong and they can work wonders, but only if you start with something you genuinely believe. Like, saying “I love myself” or “I am beautiful” to yourself in the mirror won’t work because you don’t believe it and it only creates a stronger contrast between what you aren’t and what you’d like to be. So, starting with ‘I think my hair looks pretty good today’ or ‘I like the colour of my eyes’ or whatever (obviously different for everyone : )) is a much more effective approach.

    + good mantra! : )

  • http://www.TRFit.com/ Hope Hughes

    Thanks Minna! I think that’s one of the reasons why they weren’t working for me – the back of my mind it always chattering “this is bs!”
    Starting with just breathing and repeating “I am”…not everyday, but I’m working on it! I’m also looking into tapping (EFT) as a way to reprogram my brain!

  • jacqueline

    i totally want real!

  • KK PhD

    I totally agree that being authentic and true to oneself is better than trying to be happy all the time. Being happy isn’t something that you should TRY to be. It’s something that should naturally come out of being authentic with your wants and needs.

    That said, sometimes it takes some experimentation to know where you stand and what feels right.

    I enjoy Gretchen Rubin’s approach to happiness, although she actively TRIES to find ways to be happier. Sometimes it means going against her nature (spending time with others when she really want to be alone.) But often she finds happiness with just being true to herself.


  • Nicki

    Yay!! So glad You are Back!!

  • Kelly

    Yes. Totally real. That will be so refreshing and much more meaningful. Thank you so much for putting yourself out there.

  • Thea

    Sorry Sayward but if he has stopped crying it’s because he’s given up expressing his sadness. He was clearly not ready to begin preschool and he will still be sad and let down about it. You’ll probably see this when he gets older- I had it with both my sons and we ended up home schooling to get around it. They were much happier then, and able to express their gratitude at not forcing their separation from me when they weren’t ready for it.

  • http://twitter.com/Charlotta Charley

    Yes, yes, yes. I so agree and I’ve been on a very similar path, practicing feeling the hard emotions instead of pushing them away, it’s horribly difficult but it makes a huge difference. Letting go of the guilt I’ve felt at not being always being able to see things in a positive light, at being someone who has had shit things happen to them and finds life not always to be awesome because of that has been just as hard. No longer feeling like a dark, gloomy person when actually what I really feel is brave for confronting the dark and gloomy. Authenticity, honesty, I love it. I would 110% rather read blogs about a person’s true life experience and their reality than something sugar coated and unrealistic, bring it on! x

  • Sarah C.

    I’m so glad you have come to this realization, though I realize it was hard for you along the way. I think that the formerly go-go-positive vibe here, while lovely to look at, well, kind of rang false in some small way to me. I mean, I know that I’m not always so love-list-y about life and I suspect not everyone else is (though some people with comparison problems could easily have read your sunny-ness as a further condemnation of their own attitude in a “why can’t I be like that?” kind of way). This is better – honestly, better for you and better for your readers. We don’t want to read about how awesome and perfect your life is and compare our own to it – we just like your voice and your style and want to read about you and your thoughts on things, honest and real and authentic thoughts. You know what I mean?

  • Carrie Hall

    I love this post! In the last few months, I have discovered the exact same thing and it has been mind blowing and weight lifting and I am grateful to my teenage self for reminding me to live my own life and simply be me!

  • Alexandra

    Yay. Great to have you back :)

  • Sarah C.

    Oh, and on Waits – I’m so glad he found his place in preschool! My girl’s experience was almost identical, and now she loves school. (And this is why I could never make her “cry it out” or stuff like that: she has genuine emotions like all people do and why should a parent – the one person she should trust the most in the world – deny her that?).

  • Jennyness

    I’m so happy you’re back. <3

    Also I thought I'd try seed cycling to help my irregular and painful periods. I didn't even know such a thing existed. So, thanks for being brave enough to be yourself. You might have accidentally helped me while you were at it.

  • erica

    excellent, excellent, excellent post, and incredibly, exactly what i’ve been thinking the last week. i want real!

  • MathTutor

    Shit gets real each time I make your lentil soup recipe. Had some last night and IT NEVER GETS OLD! If its possible to get overweight off lentils…I’m sure I’m on my way to accomplishing that…

    Another amazing post btw. I had a pretty traumatic experience at preschool and don’t ever want to send my children to one. However, I agree that children need to experience things outside their usual environment. Maybe I will become more comfortable with the idea of preschool in the future.

  • http://chewonthisvegan.tumblr.com/ Monika {windycityvegan}

    Hahahaha! I make lentil soup at least three times a week these days, I sort of play it by ear but Say’s recipe is very good. I gained a couple of pounds over the holidays, but I don’t think I can attribute it to lentils.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    You’re certainly entitled to your opinion (and I do mean that), but I just want to be clear that this was in NO WAY resembling anything even approximating a “Cry It Out” situation. Waits was held in a loving space, he was engaged, he was talking about his feelings and he was supported. Anyway, we can of course agree to disagree. =)

  • Caitlin

    Wow, I love this. I’ve been critical of the whole cult of positivity in the past but I tended to go with it because the alternative – being a totally pissy nabob of negativity – was even less appealing. I like the idea of instead choosing authenticity. Seems more realistic and a lot healthier! BTW first-time reader here, and after this post, I’ll be sticking around.

  • Emorp

    It’s an excellent book. Alain de Botton also has wise words about a more humane way to view happiness and achievement etc, worth tracking down.

  • Melisa

    Glad you’re back.

  • Maritza

    Oh Sayward!! I’m soooooo happy that you’re happy…and that you’re back!! :)

  • Lys

    I’m glad you’re back! And I like real & want real. I don’t think it’s bad when bloggers talk about what’s wrong- it’s nice to get the whole picture and there’s no need to apologize for it. Then it stops the whole comparing your whole life to someone else’s highlights reel. Authenticity is where it’s at.

    I can’t wait to keep reading your blog, I’ve missed it a lot!

  • Jessica Hall

    Yes yes yes!!! Welcome back! I’m so happy!

  • Ken

    I absofreakinlutely loved this

    “Happy isn’t something that’s running away from you! Happy, if you have it, is right there when you wake up in the morning. And chasing? That’s what you do when you’re deeply, deeply unhappy, and maybe you don’t even know it.”

    Thanks for it

  • ellie

    I’m glad you are back! And remember, it’s YOUR blog, you can put whatever you want on it. If others want the all-happy-all-the-time type of blog, they can go make one themself. One of things I love about your blog is that you are open and honest. Again, welcome back :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/christina.coppola Christina Coppola

    You’re a really good writer! (I’m a newbie here) I just finished a book (memoir) that supports your main idea really well. It’s Dying to be Me by Anita Moorjani. She had end stage cancer. She could no longer walk or breathe on her own. Her organs started to fail and she went into a coma. She had a one in a million near death experience during which she experience a lot of revelations about life. She says that she understood that we are all perfect expressions of unconditional love and that if we are authentic in our lives and love ourselves unconditionally, we won’t get diseases like cancer. She chose to return to her body, and was healed within days.

  • Chantelle

    Im so happy you are back!

  • Sonja

    I just saw your post on facebook that you are blogging again! I’m so happy about this and so glad that you are confident with your life. I can’t wait to read more. Lots of love

  • Ashley

    I am personally really excited about the new purpose of your blog – I definitely struggle with those same issues of positivity and authenticity you described. Thank you for this.

  • Sierra

    Yes! Wahoo! You’re back! Can’t wait to read it! :)

  • alison

    I’m glad that you’re posting again, and I encourage you to continue to be authentic. That has been a theme in my life this past year or so. I’m about your age and went through something I never thought I’d face – a divorce, with all of its messy consequences. I’m naturally open and honest, so I decided to just be direct and to the point when people asked questions. Almost everyone has been overwhelmingly supportive, I feel much better, and I can only think that it’s been the best thing for my friendships. So more power to you!

  • Nat Smith

    Im so excited to see that you’ve embraced who you are. Even if its ugly sometimes. Im trying to do the same! Thank you for your honesty and I cant wait for future posts. Good and bad! Thanks again. Hi waits :)

  • GiRRL_Earth

    I love this post. Finally, there is someone out in the “blog space” that isn’t going to sugar coat life which in turn, makes the rest of us think there is something wrong with our lives. Not that I necessarily think this, but there are times when I read the bloggers I follow and feel inferior, like, how do they do it all?! And here’s the thing, I’m generally not one to compare my life to another but… somtimes…it…cannot…be…helped.
    I live through a shit storm in 2010: serious health crisis (I’ll spare you the details) and I lost my oldest brother to brain cancer (he left behind 3 kids). It was a hell of a year. The best and only way I knew how to cope with happend to him and me was to swim in the unhappiness until my fingers got all pruney. Seriously. And since 2010, that’s what I do — I swim in it — i don’t try to deny it.
    Last Thursday, I received a Declaration of Hate email from a (now) former follower to my blog. Her email really brought me down. I felt lousy the entire day (it didnt’ help that I read the email first thing that morning). Her email wore on my like a heavy cloak. But I was a work, it was Q-end and I needed to get a grip so I compartmentalized it and got on with my day. Did I ruminate all weekend about it? Yep. Did I blog about it? Nope. I wanted to, believe me, but I didn’t think anyone would really want to read about how I pissed off a follower.
    I look forward to reading more about what’s been going on in your life.

  • KP

    I just <3 this post so much. About being yourself and letting others feel their genuine emotions. As I continue to struggle with my own authentic self, I really look forward to continuing to read your blogs :)

  • lisampls

    girl, i admire your guts and i’m truly delighted to have you, your most authentic self, back here. welcome back. and thank you!!! let’s get real. the ugly cry and squished smiling faces. they belong and they are beautiful.

  • katta

    Yay for real ness and real happiness. Blogs actually freak me out because people are so relentlessly happy and crafty and healthy. Real will be brave and wonderful to share. Thank you :)

  • Matt

    What a great article. This quote came to mind:
    “Sometimes we have the absolute certainty that there’s something inside us that’s so hideous and monstrous that, if we ever search it out, we won’t be able to stand looking at it. But it’s when we’re willing to come face-to-face with that demon that we face the angel.” – Hubert Selby Jr. (author of Requiem for a Dream, Last Exit to Brooklyn, etc.)

  • Brandi

    I’m so glad you’re back! I love real. My pitiful little blog is real, and no one reads, and that’s okay with me. :)

  • greenbean

    Basically we all need to steer away from our obsession with ourselves and that is where being real is at. Our society is self obsessed to the point where it is nauseating.

    There is a great book by the way that helps to acknowledge kid’s feelings-a total must read for any parent:

    “How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

  • Annie

    And in the spirit of Star Wars, we can recognise that the second round will be better.
    (odd note of blog-excitement-optimism, Annie)

    I agree totally about chasing happiness. And denying the recognition of negative things is inescapable, and kind of dangerous. Almost always, realising that “wait a minute! This is bullshit!” has lead into something great, through resolution. A positive outlook doesn’t mean that you pretend bad things don’t or wont happen – it’s realising that you can get over it, through it or change it for the better.

    I always had trouble leaving my mum, like even when I was a teen and was all “Shuh, you’re so lame” I was still a little clingy when she went interstate for a few days for her job or anything. My sister Ruby was totally fine however, so it was definitely a me thing. Ruby was a little more social, as well as being open to being social, and I was a bit ‘I like reading and talking to grown ups about books and how to do stuff’. Not anti-social, but not social either. The way my mum managed it, being a single mother, was to basically make me feel really good about myself. Every morning we’d all eat breakfast together, and while none of us being morning people, we’d talk about why we were excited about school/work/dinner even, and what we can all do together when we get home (we were a games people, not a tv people so much). Mum would tell us she loved us, and we knew we’d be together again soon.
    It’s going to sound maybe a bit weird, but I kind of, in retrospect, see similarities in getting my dog Nala over extreme separation anxiety. She had to get over the fact that we will leave, but we will always come back. It sucked for her at first, and I felt horrible, but it worked and she’s SO much happier now.
    And while I don’t believe that you should “condition” a dog in the way you reassure a child, in my experience it was all about knowing that it’s ok for me to love and miss my mum, my mum will be back, and I can actually learn to *enjoy* the in-between time.

  • Annie

    My mum always tells people – anyone who asks – exactly how she is. It’s hilarious sometimes, because it’s often:
    the lady at the supermarket (just being polite) – Hi, how are you?
    Ma – I have cramps, so not great, you?
    the lady at the supermarket (just being polite) – o.0 … Well, that’ll be $5.70… have a nice night!

  • Jessica

    I am so, so glad that you are back. Here’s the thing: I can tell, from the things you have written here, that you are an awesome, inspiring, amazing person. I don’t care if you only show us the happy, or if you choose to show the sad, and the depressing, and the crappy. I care that you choose to show us anything at all, because not only do I ENJOY reading you, I feel I have a lot to learn from you. So, whatever the new Bonzai Aphrodite is, I can’t wait!

  • Denise

    Love this! And I love the example you gave about your son. I discovered a man named Harville Hendrix recently. He has a similar philosophy that he and his wife apply to relationships and couples, but he has applied the same thinking to children too. It is so odd to me that validating peoples true feelings feels so counter intuitive. How did that happen?! If you are interested in Harville Hendrix check him out here: and http://www.harvillehendrix.com/ And thank you for your blog and your super real post!

  • kristen

    bring it on! love reading your point of view and thanks for sharing your experiences with us! keepin it real is brave and refreshing.

  • Sara Howe

    super weird. I happen to be Sara Howe. Interesting. Anyway, very glad for authenticity! I’ve actually been going through the same discovery, that feeling one’s own emotions fully (not denying them because you think being angry makes you a bad person…) is so important! Can’t wait to see things uncensored! Depression, anger, sadness are happen in my life and I’m sure I will be able to relate to your blog even better if they have a little place here, too!

  • skeptk_vegan

    Sayward! My name is Kristen, I am a vegan in Alaska and I discovered your blog around six months ago. After reading at least 3/4 of your blog (chronologically) I finally discovered that you were no longer posting, that I had missed the active stage, and I was deeply saddened. Your blog originally was very inspiring to me, yet daunting due to the super-woman, “all is always well” sort of an ambiance you always seemed to have. I have, and still do, struggle with mental and physical ailments which I am working very hard at. I just finished reading your post about your quest for health and dealing with going off the vegan diet or not. I absolutely appreciated the authenticity in that post, and based on this one as well, I am SO happy! I often find myself craving your energy, passion, and willingness to share, and am so happy that today I decided to rediscover your newly active blogging. Thank you so much for your dedication and hard work, I am a huge fan.

  • http://twitter.com/rachelkyle0402 Rachel Jacobs

    It is your raw personality that draws so many of us to you. Things can’t be roses and puppies everyday…that just makes us the readers questions whether something might be wrong with us (why aren’t we as happy as Sayward?).
    Looking forward to the recaps of your year off.
    Happy Tuesday to you Sayward!

  • Joselle

    I like real.

  • kris

    THANK YOU with all my heart for being vulnerable and authentic. I do understand the feeling of wanting to have your blog positive but I’m already much happier reading your true story. Recently (a.k.a. last week) I moved away from my home town of 34 years for the first time. I was super sad about all the people I was leaving. I knew with technology it’s not like I wouldn’t have contact but still. The weeks leading up to my departure, people would tell me not to be sad, that i’d meet great people and all that. I knew that where I was going would be great. But I wanted to tell everyone to stop dismissing my sadness. I had to be ok with being sad.

    I’m glad you’ve taken time to focus on yourself. I’m glad that you’re finding what works for you. And I’m glad you’re back. And if you have to stop – for a while or forever – we will all understand. I am grateful for everything you have shared with us as an audience, as people who have come to know more about you and care for you as a human being. But always do what’s right for you.

    So again, thank you for everything you’ve done in your own life and have shared. I can honestly say that you continue to be a source of inspiration…in all your authenticness.

    much love.

  • Diana

    wow, so happy to have you back, and even happier that you’re moving in a more authentic direction – for both yourself and the blog. As much as I loved reading you before, I most connected to the moments you did talk about your difficulties. Too much positivity (from you or anyone else) sometimes just makes me feel worse!

    So welcome back to blogging, I’m really looking forward to all the ‘real shit’ you’ll have for us!