Positive thinking. We’ve all heard of it, chances are some of you even try to do it. I don’t. Can’t stand it. When people tell me to “think positively” my heart sinks. Why?
Life isn’t all positive. Sometimes it’s painful, hard, frustrating and downright annoying. It can also be wonderful, inspiring, uplifting and joyous. Sometimes it’s neither. But too often to take a stance against mindless optimism is to be seen to be “negative” or pessimistic. But neither optimism or pessimism captures reality, the glass is after all both half full and half empty.
This week Wallace Chapman and I talked about this and the history of positive thinking, as a self help movement. We also talked about the pitfalls. (Click here for audio of the interview…)
For me, this sums it up…
“Fortunately, the alternative to optimism is not pessimism, which can be equally delusional. What we need here is some realism, or the simple admission that, to paraphrase a bumper sticker, “stuff happens,” including sometimes very, very bad stuff. We don’t have to dwell incessantly on the worst-case scenarios — the metastasis, the market crash or global pandemic — but we do need to acknowledge that they could happen and prepare in the best way we can. Some will call this negative thinking, but the technical term is sobriety.” (Click here for the whole article).
Realism, or emotional “sobriety” as this article describes it means allowing feelings to happen and impact us. To truly feel the emotional impact without clinging to it, or rejecting and avoiding it. It is one of the philosophies at the heart of mindfulness practice, and involves a full and willing acceptance of all that is before us good, bad or otherwise. It means a full engagement with reality, not just the bits we want or expect. But how is positive thinking dangerous?
“People who view the world through rose-colored glasses are wonderfully optimistic and seem to harness the power of positive thinking. This often helps them; even spurs them on to great success. Unfortunately, their look-only-at-the-positive attitude sometimes sets them up for painful failure; especially when they meet up with very real limits to their abilities, resources, or opportunities. When this happens, they often feel crest-fallen and view themselves harshly.” (Click here for the whole article).
It’s a long way to fall back to Earth from the mindlessley optimistic view. And sometimes seeing things positively is just a bit delusional.
No one says that better than Monty Python…