What’s with our society’s obsession with positive thinking? Everywhere you turn there are articles, blogs, websites all touting the benefits of “positive thinking.” What the heck does that mean anywa? Ask ten people and you’ll get ten different definitions. Don’t forget to think positive about that!
Positive thinking is the rave in the world of personal development. Those leading the masses to happiness and success have concluded that if we have two choices, namely to think positive or negative, we might as well pick the more positive one! That’s positive thinking at its best. But there are not just two choices. There are so many more ways to think… an infinity of ways!
Personally, I don’t think positive thinking ever got me anywhere. I rose from the depths of depression when I was younger, to being described by Chris Barry in the Montreal Mirror as “happy, happy.” And it’s true, I am happy. Sure I have my short bouts of other emotions and that’s great, because feeling happy happy all the time isn’t what happiness is all about. Happy people are happy to feel a whole range of emotions and to express them. It’s part of the joy of being human.
Sure, I agree, there are lots of emotions we don’t like to feel. We sink back into the positive/negative dichotomy and we talk about “negative” emotions and think that since we have those we need to think positive… But there is nothing negative about negative emotions at all. Most often, “negative” emotions are an important signal. Anger lets us know when our standards have been violated. Sadness lets us know when we have lost something of importance to us. Guilt signals us that we have made a mistake and cues us to be sure not to repeat it. Fear warns us of danger and keeps us from being careless or taking unnecessary risks. And where would we be without these emotions? Would we be happy happy in some kind of utopia?
And yes, there are limits. There is a different between appropriate emotional responses and reactions that just don’t fit or that seem to sweep us away and that we can’t seem to get out of.
What does this have to do with positive thinking? Thinking positive won’t help you respond appropriately to events and situations. It might help you get unstuck when things are rough, but most often it just seems like a way to lie to yourself. When things suck, how well do you respond when someone tells you to “Think positive!”
What we need to do is rethink our thinking. To respond to life and the world with in ways that enhance our lives and empower us, we need to think in ways that are useful. To “think positive” doesn’t really give us any specific information and might not always be appropriate. But each of us can determine what is the most useful and empowering way to think in a given situation. If you are where you are and you want to be somewhere else, how do you need to think to get you there?
When I learned this principle a number of years ago, it seemed to have a domino effect in my world. Instead of thinking on automatic and responding to things in habitual ways (which led me to depression and gloom) I began to see new ways of perceiving and reacting. All of a sudden the cause-effect equation was broken. Instead of all kinds of events causing pain and hurt, events and circumstances suddenly had a wide range of implications. I had the choice of how to respond and my respond was dependent on the meaning I gave to the event. With this new program running in my mind, interpreting things in a way that brought me down just seemed silly. It gave me the opportunity to update my internal programming… which most of us have never done. The software of our mind today was installed years ago, when we had less wisdom, less experience and fewer resources, and it has stuck with us ever since. What wondrous things will happen in your life when you run some anti-virus software on your internal computer?
Each time I hear self-help gurus sing the benefits of positive thinking, I wonder how useful it is. Useful thinking seems more positive in the end and gets you further.
So how do you need to think so you can live a better life?