It is hard to remain positive

Frequent readers of this blog will have noticed that I am regular reader of the FT Weekend pages.  I particularly like the ‘Life & Arts’ section for its balance of opinion and reviews.  However, one weekend last month I was depressed by two articles I read in quick succession.  Shannon Vallor described life as an ageing roller coaster with failed brakes and ‘accelerating climate change, a deadly pandemic and unravelling global supply chains’.  While on the facing page Nilanjana Roy wrote that the ‘past few decades have brought humankind and most other species on Earth to the brink of destruction’.  I was depressed because I agree with their analysis and our leaders seem either unaware of the impending crash of the roller coaster or unable to construct a global strategy to avert the looming destruction.  However, spiralling into negativity does not help because negativity tends to promote fight-or-flight survival mechanisms that can lead to narrow-mindedness, a lack of creativity and limiting one’s options to the tried and tested actions which are unlikely to avert destruction.  Whereas a positive outlook broadens your repertoire of options and builds physical, social and psychological resources.  Positive psychological capital, associated with hope, efficacy, resilience and optimism, leads to higher positive outcomes including commitment, successful outcomes, satisfaction and well-being.  In the face of apparently insurmountable challenges it is difficult to remain positive whether you are leading a small team, a department, an organisation or a country; nevertheless it is important to remain positive because research shows that the ‘happier and smarter’ approach works better than the ‘sadder but wiser’ style of leadership.  Of course, extreme positivity is usually delusional or irresponsible and can lead to complacency; so, you need to dodge that too.


Kelloway EK, Weigand H, McKee MC & Das H, 2013. Positive leadership and employee well-being. J. Leadership & Organizational Studies, 20(1), pp.107-117.

Nel T, Stander MW & Latif J. 2015, Investigating positive leadership, psychological empowerment, work engagement and satisfaction with life in a chemical industry. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology/SA Tydskrif vir Bedryfsielkunde, 41(1):1243.

Nilanjana Roy, Lessons from 1971 for eco-activists today, in FT Weekend 9 October / 10 October 2021.

Shannon Vallor, Tech’s future shocks, in FT Weekend 9 October / 10 October 2021.

Youssef-Morgan CM, Luthans F. Positive leadership: Meaning and application across cultures. Organizational Dynamics 42:3:198–208, 2013

4 thoughts on “It is hard to remain positive

  1. Raymond Horstman

    It is hard to remain positive. I know this sentiment. You read it all days. It is depressing to hear this day by day . I don’t know what it is but I read somewere that there were just two times when mankind was optimistic. It was the end of the 19th century and the 1950’s. Since then every generation seems to get more pessimistic. Why? People in the West have never had so much wealth and welfare. Why do we pretend that the present is the beginning of the end of times?

  2. Tony Patey

    I can see where Raymond is coming from, but I’d say the 1960s were an acme of optimism; the 50s witnessed the first stirrings but there was still the shadow, and results, of war around. To be alive in the 60s was bliss, but to be a teenager was very heaven!
    We – the young, both in education and the media (I was a teenage crime reporter in London’s East End) – did have the world in our hands; we blew it, I think, for reasons now only too obvious. Rushing for mortgages instead of wider education which suddenly became more accessible, for example!
    My humble opinion is that pessimism (or rather intellectual lethargy; there are still glimmers of joy when given the right stimulus) stems from our intellectual and cultural “capital” not keeping pace our with wealth and welfare “capital.”
    But, as a 74-year-old retired teacher, I’m optimistic that today’s youngsters have got the right attitudes, the energy and – dare I say? – gumption to take us forward.

  3. sandidureice

    This is very entertaining. Especially the final sentence. My natural demeanor used to be to always think of the negative because when things turned out okay it was a nice surprise. It took me decades to learn that negative feeds more negative and my negative demeanor caused negative actions which in turn caused disastrous outcomes. Now I am being told one can be too positive. I do have a tempering approach – think positive but have a back-up plan if the worst happens. This works for a personal approach to life but I’m not sure that it would help the state of the environment. Love your blog posts. Thank you.

  4. Pingback: Happy New Year! | Realize Engineering

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