Absence of the Negative vs. Presence of the Positive

What prevents us from being happy?  

Often our search for happiness seems elusive because of some negative influence that is getting in the way.  But is that all there is to it?  Maybe the problem is a bad boss, a bad attitude, bad health, bad weather or a bad childhood.  A broken water heater, a broken bank account or a broken promise are all just as likely to keep us from being happy.  Because the difficulties we face are inevitable and come in all shapes and sizes our happiness must be able to rise above the "presence of the negative".

But there's another side to the happiness equation that can sometimes be harder to recognize. To achieve true satisfaction it's generally not enough for something negative to go away -- something positive must take its place or inertia soon sets in. Life is less fulfilling when there is an "absence of the positive".

Very often the search for a better way to live comes as a result of something bad that has happened which galvanizes us into action. Some sickness or painful life event (i.e. the "presence of the negative") serves to prod us into a new and hopefully better way of living. Whether the new direction sticks or not, the negative influence is the motivator for change.  In my work counseling people who are struggling with frequent sexual infidelity, problems with pornography or full-on sex addiction, I regularly help my clients navigate the negative consequences they are experiencing.

But just avoiding the seemingly negative events in life won't make us better people. We also need something positive to encourage growth, just as flowers need sunshine to bloom.

If you have successfully dealt with a difficult situation and then all you do is watch television reruns, no lasting happiness will deepen within you no matter how grateful you may initially feel. True growth has a constant need for a positive influence.  The trick is that it doesn't have to come from anywhere other than inside your own spirit.

Positive virtues and principles for living are necessary components of a fulfilling life, such as humility, loving-kindness, gratitude, forgiveness, honesty, determination, faith, diligence, mindfulness, humor and their buddies. Without these positive forces to inspire growth, we can only move away from, not toward.

The presence of the negative may hurt, but the absence of the positive is what truly injures.


Bill Herring LCSW, CSAT is an Atlanta counselor and psychotherapist for individuals and couples, with a special focus on problematic sexual behavior patterns such as repeated cheating, problems with pornography and sex addiction.