Negative People

White, dark-haired 40-year-old cisgender man in his forties frowning and giving a thumbs down
I fucking love negative people.

I know it sounds strange, but I felt I had to say it. You see, our society seems to have an utterly irrational hatred and fear of negative people - by which they mean...well...

...Honestly, I don't know. The broad definition seems to be something like people who aren't always happy-happy joy-joy-joy. You know, normal people.

Now, the hatred and fear of toxic people I understand. This is because the idea of toxic people actually makes sense: toxic people are manipulative, abusive, and are generally shitmunching bastards that you should get the hell out of your life before they mess around with your health and happiness any more. I also understand the dislike, if not the hatred, of mean people, because they're arseholes and no-one wants to be around a self-important busybody who treats everyone around them like shit.

Sad blue face
I still understand the desire to cut negative people out of one's life, don't get me wrong. I understand the desire to be happy, and I understand that most people scratch at happiness where they can find it. That happiness is fleeting and most people aren't particularly secure in it. And believe me, I understand all too well that caring for someone when they're having a really hard time can be taxing and draining and shitty and generally not very fun at all. (This refers to my personal experience; if you stumble across this and you know what I'm talking about, I swear I'm not criticising you as a person and I don't hate your guts or think you're awful, I love you to bits and will always be there. I just find it tough sometimes.)

Badge reading "I'm allergic to negative people"
My contention is that I don't necessarily think it's a good desire, and here's why.

Firstly, I've said this before; I'll say it again. I think there are things in life that are more important than happiness.

Shocking, isn't it?

The thing is, if I wanted to be happy I'd sit around all day masturbating, eating chocolate, and giggling at cat videos, because I am a base and easily pleased creature. (Alternatively, I'd sit around all day doing maths, because that makes me easily pleased as well.) Now, that would be fine and dandy if all I wanted were happiness - and it isn't all I want. It isn't even what I want most.

Long-haired woman pushing people away
What I want more is fulfillment - to feel like I might have actually spent my threescore years and ten doing something I found meaningful. This is why I don't sit around looking at lolcats all day, but instead do things I don't necessarily like (such as homework) and some things I actively hate (like getting up at half past six every morning when I am so not a morning person). I don't do them because that's all my life consists of - I do them because they're parts of studying, which is what I am doing so I can eventually wake up one day as a physics researcher and try and work out a comprehensive model of the observable universe for my day job.

But even that's still not enough, because I'm an ambitious bugger. I wouldn't be content if I were a lolcat-obsessed physics researcher - well, I'd feel happy that I got my dream position, but there'd still be something missing.

Sad yellow face
You see, I have an aim for myself still higher than fulfillment, because to me that means little if I get my cushy job and my house but I ignore other people suffering just outside my front door. It's not right that I should sit on my privilege and not give anything back to the community. And so even if it initially makes me unhappy or means that I have to give up some of my time, I'd freely and willingly choose to help other people in any way I can. To put the community before my more selfish pleasures, because that has a shot at making everyone's life a bit better and not just mine.

So I've now found at least two things more important than my personal happiness. Sad people don't seem such an abomination now, do they?

Secondly, a lot of positive thinkers seem to assume negative people are negative by choice, when in fact a lot of things can make you negative for days, months or years: sleep deprivation, a breakup, loss of a loved one, a depressive disorder...Some examples are possibly more weighty than others, but you get the point. Life is full of things that get you down, sometimes chronically so, and when someone is suffering I personally find it unreasonable to expect them to be all sunshine and rainbows, particularly just because I'm insecure about my own moods.

Thirdly, negative people are people before they are negative - in other words, they are people and not stick figures with sad faces pencilled on. They laugh, they cry, they have good senses of humour (I find being able to laugh at myself essential to get me through a day), they're utterly fascinated by physics, and have quirks like slipping into a different language when nervous or loving cats. I find that I'm more interested in these character traits than on how many smiles they can pack into a sentence - and this brings me to my real problem with all this shying away from negativity.

No, before you ask, it's not to do with me complaining about how everyone ever in my life has walked out on me, or something like that (though in the interests of honesty I'll admit that it's a very real fear of mine). It's actually to do with my friends and loved ones.

You see, while I don't actively seek out negative people to be my friends, given statistics and suchlike I think it's quite likely that at least one person in my friendship group is, at any one time, going to suffer some hardship and feel at least somewhat down for a couple of months. In other words, they will - horror of horrors - turn negative. (You may gasp and snatch at the smelling salts now.)

According to many a life coach and inspirational quote, I should kick them out of my life to avoid damaging my own mood.

Pardon my French, but my reaction to this is something like "The FUCK!?".

Honestly, I would rather get a bit down empathising with my friends' troubles than sever my ties with them for a little bit of extra happiness. Call me old-fashioned, but I was raised to believe that friends and partners help each other - especially through adversity - rather than running at the first sign of trouble. And though I'm not great at forming and maintaining strong relationships with other people, I do what I can to help them when they're in need. It's what friends do. I'm not going to give up on the amazing people I am so lucky to have in my life just because they're going through a hard time.

I'm not suggesting that you should stay in a friendship or relationship that is obviously abusive, unequal, or off in some way. And you are free to do as you wish: I don't want to trap anyone if it makes them unhappy. And honestly, if your friends or partners do need to be told that they need to do something other than pity themselves without analysing the situation or doing anything about it, go ahead and tell them. (We are all guilty of doing this. Show me someone who hasn't ever wallowed in self-pity at some point in their lives and I'll show you a newborn baby.) There is a difference between being supportive and being enabling. I'm just saying that if your friend or your partner is down and your first reaction is all to do with how negative they are and what it means for your mood, rather than how they feel and what can be done, then frankly - I think you are a shitty friend and a shitty partner. I may be terrible at almost everything to do with social interaction, but at least I don't cut off the few people I let most into my life.

Now, I think I've had enough angry ranting, so if you don't mind, I'm going to completely ruin my tricolon and the gradual buildup to my explosion of anger with some relative calm - because in getting myself all worked up I've neglected to tell you that a strong support system helps people to struggle through and end up more positive. The corollary to this, of course, is that a weak or nonexistent support system makes people a lot worse.

In other words, if you kick those negative people out of your life just for being negative, they are going to stay negative. They will not get better. At best it will serve as a particularly shitty wake-up call, but there are better wake-up calls out there.

The world is not divided into positive and negative people, and neither positivity nor negativity are immutable and inherent traits. The most stubbornly cheerful person in the world will probably spend a night crying themselves to sleep at some point, if they haven't already, and the most melancholy person in the world can probably still crack a good joke and have a smile spread across their face. It's not right to leave someone out in the cold with no help for being negative, not when the same people could build a support network that would make everyone happy.