By Alison Bowen
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) In “You’re Not That Great: (but neither is anyone else),” author Elan Gale suggests trying a new approach to living…EMBRACE NEGATIVITY!
January’s over. So does that mean we can throw out New Year’s resolutions?
A new book has an idea for you. Forget the positivity that’s foisted upon you through quote-laden Instagram posts or encouragement toward exercise.
In “You’re Not That Great: (but neither is anyone else),” author Elan Gale takes the opposite approach of most books on the self-help shelf.
“Everyone’s constantly affirming everybody, and it’s not helping them,” Gale said.
Outlining how we got addicted to positivity, think parents complimenting toddler drawings, he breaks down the nonsense of quotes like “Everything happens for a reason” and replaces them with truisms like “Life is unfair” and “Bad things happen to good people.”
Acknowledging these are “astoundingly less fun than the kinds of phrases we usually see on Stevie’s mug at work,”
Gale forges ahead, nonetheless, to show us how we can harness negativity.
We talked to the Los Angeles-based author, 34, who is a producer on reality dating show “The Bachelor,” as well as a prolific tweeter, about negativity that doesn’t have to be a negative, and how a stranger’s harsh words at birthday party changed his life.
(This interview has been condensed and edited.)
Q: How did you decide to write this book?
A: The origin story of this book comes from anger. I was just seeing so many affirmations and being told to smile and be happy so much and hearing people tell people that if you have a positive approach, that life will work out for them. It’s so infuriating to watch people set each other up for failure so consistently and with so much fervor.
And I was just angry, and I didn’t know what to do. I don’t like to drown anger. I like to use it, because I think it’s actually a really great motivating force.
Q: What about self-help books that encourage people to think and breathe positive? Your approach is the opposite.
A: I don’t expect to supplant all other advice books. I just think there needs to be balance. There is room for positivity and happiness, and that’s fine, but when you’re told it’s the only way, you’re setting yourself up for failure. And I can’t tell you how many people tell me they felt like failures because they weren’t happy. It’s this weird self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think you’re supposed to be happy and you’re actually not, you feel worse all the time.
Q: So we actually set ourselves up for failure, feeling bad about anything less than eternal happiness?
A: Happiness is this miraculous, unbelievable thing. And if you get it 10 minutes a week, it’s a f—— miracle. And you should enjoy the miracle.
If the expectation is that everything’s always going to go well for you, then you’re always failing, no matter what. You can always be doing better.
Everyone wants to believe in fate when things aren’t going their way, but everyone wants to believe in their own skill when things are going their way. But most of the time, things aren’t going your way.
We’ve been taught for some reason that we deserve everything. They say you can be anything in this life, and I believe that that’s true, but they don’t say that you will be anything in this life. That’s the difference. The potential is there, but it’s not going to happen because you want it to. It’s only going to happen if you try.
Q: What should we do, then, with these feelings of dread or rage?
A: Emotions have this kind of power, this kinetic force. Things like anger, you feel it, you actually feel it in your shoulders and your chest. Dread, you feel in your stomach. There are things to do with that. There’s an energy that’s created by those emotions, and you should try to use that energy to do something that is meaningful to you.
Q: You’ve spoken openly about getting sober in recent years. Can you talk about how negativity played a role in that?
A: All the acceptance over the years, all the people lovingly telling me that I was fine and that I was good, they all meant so well. But it really wasn’t until someone said to me, “You’re dying.” The total stranger who told me I was a moron saved my life. That person got through to me that I wasn’t doing well and that I shouldn’t feel good about myself.
It was the full-on understanding and self-loathing and shame, this shame that I had allowed myself to fall so low. And it wasn’t about, “You deserve better,” it was about, “You are the worst.”
Q: Asking a question you pose in your book, what’s your favorite negative emotion?
A: Rage. When I’m really, really angry about something, I get sh– done. I can accomplish 10 pages of writing in 10 minutes if I’m full of rage. And I don’t want to be rageful, but when it happens, I don’t fight. I don’t yell at people. I channel it. I either run really fast, or I write really fast, or I meet all the strangers on the internet. It’s like a rush. I love rage.