Accentuate the Positive

‘You’ve got to accentuate the positive

Eliminate the negative

Latch on to the affirmative

Don’t mess with Mister In-Between’.

This song was written in 1944, during a time of wars across the world. With its rousing lyrics and upbeat tune, it no doubt helped to lift the spirits of many who were living through that time. A particularly exuberant version is by Bing Crosby and the Andrew sisters – even those of us who didn’t grow up in that era, and who don’t normally listen to music from the 40s, can enjoy the energy of their performance. And while mindfulness emphasises being with life as it is, non-judgementally and without trying to deny our negative experiences, there is a wisdom in also ‘accentuating the positive’ in our lives.

Our brains are hard-wired for survival rather than happiness, which means we are more likely to worry about what might conceivably go wrong in the future than enjoy what’s going well for us right now. Because of this, for many people, anxiety rather than joy can become the soundtrack of their lives. While serious anxiety disorders require professional treatment, the kind of low-level anxiety many of us live with often responds well to efforts to lift our mood.

What can be difficult, however, is making the time to cultivate positive experiences for ourselves. It might feel selfish, or unimportant, to accentuate the positive. Or we could feel we’re resting on our laurels, rather than ‘getting on with things’, if we’re enjoying ourselves. Through my work as a music therapist, I’ve seen the deep joy and meaning which people can get from sharing positive experiences, for example by singing together. People who have every reason to be depressed – because they’ve suffered a serious permanent injury, perhaps, or because they’ve had to sell their home to move into a nursing home – can beam with joy as they sing along to songs they love. These positive experiences are important for recovery, or to minimise the risk of depression, but they’re also an important part of our lives in general. As the song goes on to say:

‘You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum

Bring gloom down to the minimum

Have faith or pandemonium

Liable to walk upon the scene.’

Weekly practice idea:

This week, listen to an uplifting song – perhaps even ‘Accentuate the Positive’, and allow its magic to lift your mood and bring a smile to your face.

Anja Tanhane