When we’re talking about how to become happier people we see article after article, including ones on my site, that recommend you “stop hanging out with negative people”. Recently, I received an e-mail criticizing this advice and I realized this topic needs a lot more discussion, explanation, and thought than simply saying, “Only surround yourself with positive people”, because ultimately that might be insensitive.

Is Surrounding Yourself With Positive People Insensitive? | Uncustomary

First, let’s talk about why this advice exists in the first place.

People who give life advice for a living almost unanimously agree that surrounding yourself with positive people will make you a happier person. Positivity breeds positivity, and if you’re around people who approach life in an optimistic way you’re more likely to do so yourself. It seems pretty logical to be around people who emulate what you’re after in life.

So then why might it be insensitive to say we should stop hanging out with negative people?

Think about why someone might be negative. Having a mental illness like depression can make it very easy to be negative and have a pessimistic perspective. If that’s the reason someone is being “negative”, does that mean we should cut them out of our lives? No, of course not.

Can you imagine if someone were to do that to you? I can’t. I would be devastated. I’ve struggled with mental illness for a decade and have worked with hundreds of adults with mental illness, and I honestly can’t fathom how I would feel if someone told me they didn’t want to be my friend anymore because I had a setback or even just a bad week! That’s not fair, and that’s not how human relationships should work.

Even if we’re not talking about mental illness, sometimes a person’s negativity is a plea for help. Constantly complaining about things might be someone’s way of showing they’re in a bad place and could really use some support. Ignoring those cries for help isn’t what being a friend is about.

Everyone has bad days, weeks, and months. That doesn’t mean we should lose our friends over it. Life is hard, and we’re all grateful when someone takes the time to help us through a rough patch even if it’s inconvenient for them.

So what’s the balance?

Well, firstly I want to explain that when I talk about removing negative people from you’re life I’m actually referring to people who are negative for negativity’s sake. Someone who thrives on drama, puts you down on purpose, doesn’t support you, and drains your energy with their pessimism. Are these things someone could do as a result of a mental illness or need for help? Of course, but you need to be an adult and read the situation’s context and regularity.

Is this behavior new? That’s an easy sign that something might be going on and you might be able to be of service to them. Helping someone through something is a truly positive thing, so if you’re looking for a more positive life then assisting someone you love is a good start!

Is Surrounding Yourself With Positive People Insensitive? | Uncustomary

It can be worth it to talk to the person in question and express your concern. Share how their behavior, speech, and attitude affects you and makes you feel. Ask if there’s something going on and if you can help them with anything because you care about them and want them to be happy.

If someone refuses to address their issues, whether it’s just the negativity or the potential underlying issues, there’s not much you can do. Everyone is their own person and all you can do is express your concern, offer help, and let them decide how they’re going to deal with the situation (or not). That doesn’t mean you have to keep hanging out with them every week, though!

There’s a difference in cutting someone out of your life and being more selective about when you invite them into your space. We have to look out for ourselves and if we’re constantly being drained by someone else then we have to reevaluate how we’re prioritizing our time and the people we spend it with. That’s really all we’re talking about here. If someone in your life makes you feel worse every time you spend time with them, you can’t prioritize their feelings over yours unless there is a clearly temporary, diar situation that requires your attention.

I don’t want to ever give you the impression that I’m so happy because as soon as someone starts talking about an issue in their life I just walk away and never come back. I also don’t want you to think I never get negative or have my own issues because none of that is true. Everyone has issues, everyone has friends who have issues, and being a good friend means helping them through them.

This topic is delicate, subjective, and different every time. You have to read the situation and decide for yourself how you want to proceed.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. How do you deal with this issue in life? How do you feel about the way self help advisers approach it? I think we need to talk about it more, even if it causes some upset.