Written by : Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy  

The Positivity Paradox

Aside from devoting our time and mental energy to work, we often unconsciously hand over something far more precious—our self-worth. You may have high hopes for that swanky new job, but your excitement will almost always be less intense and less lasting than you predict. Researchers find that your impact bias, the gap between what you think you will feel and what you actually end up feeling, often leads you to “miswant”: you pine for futures that don’t end up making you very happy. It’s time to shed the unhealthy habit of glorifying the future to justify a miserable present.

Stop feeling bad about feeling bad

Our jobs can put a lot of pressure on us to radiate happiness and positivity. But the nature of work is to experience setbacks and to show up when you’re needed, even if you don’t feel like it. So stop blaming yourself for not feeling happy all the time.

When we try to suppress our sadness, disappointment or anger, we are more likely to feel those same emotions. University of Toronto assistant professor Brett Ford explains, “People who accept these emotions without judging or trying to change them are able to cope with their stress more successfully.”

Focus on the here and now

We’re happiest when we live in the moment, no matter what we’re working on. When our minds wander toward the past or the future, they often end up ruminating. Rumination differs from healthy reflection, when we analyze specific elements of a problem to better understand it. The first step to feeling better is to notice your cognitive distortions, or the dirty tricks your brain plays on you. If you find yourself pessimistically obsessing, reframe your thoughts.

Another way to stop yourself from ruminating is through social distancing, when you try to look at your situation through someone else’s eyes. Ask yourself, “What advice would I give to a friend who felt similarly?” Lastly, remember your thoughts are simply that: thoughts. Acknowledge them, but recognize they are not inevitable truths.

Let go of what you can’t control

Stressors fall into two categories: those you can do something about (the withins) and those beyond your control (the beyonds). If you’re anxious because of withins— unanswered emails in your inbox or an impending deadline—the easiest way to feel better is to complete the thing that is stressing you out. How do you stop stressing about the things you can’t control? First, you have to be diligent about recognizing what you can’t control. If you feel responsible for the beyonds, you’ll never be able to confidently say you’ve done enough and relax.


1. Take the break you can, whether it’s a vacation, a day off, or a minibreak.

2. Make time to be rigorously unproductive, see friends and family, and step away from your email and phone.

3. Stop feeling bad about feeling bad. Reframe your stress as motivation or excitement.

4. Prevent rumination by viewing your thoughts as simply thoughts, not as inevitable truths. Stay in the present and take care of the things within your control.
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