Power (or not) of positive thinking!

the-antidote-happiness-for-people-who-cant-stand-positive-thinking

We all know the mantra; with positive, self-empowering messages we can change ourselves and in turn our lives if we only set ourselves a goal to do it! It has been around for so long and has developed into so many variations, by now it is often described as ‘the cult of positivity’.

Self-help books continue to proliferate; from those that deliver cherry ‘self-affirmations’ for every situation and malady imaginable, to assorted literature on ‘law of attraction’, often neatly packaged together with the resident guru, and a calming retreat.

If we could only grasp the concept and dedicate ourselves to it, eternal happiness awaits us!

Well maybe not exactly.

While some of the, loosely termed, ‘happiness literature’ and attached teachings almost certainly resonates with some people, I have often found myself wondering about dichotomy between the increasing number of unhappiness in the world despite the proliferation and marketing of positivity as a way of thinking and acting that is certain to lead to happiness. Sceptic in me could not help but notice that if this is so; how come more and more people are deeply unhappy?

If everyone is searching for happiness; it seems only very few have found it, and if so they kept the ‘secret path’ to it very well hidden. Moreover, while reading some of the teachings and strongly recommended practices, it occurred to me that if one is to follow those to the letter … well one will be left with so little time, and/or energy to do anything else let alone to remember what was the problem to start with!

So my original question reminded; what is not working and why? 

Recently, I found the answer in Oliver Burkeman’s book.

Oliver is an Englishman living in New York. He is an author and a feature writer for the Guardian. His new book; ‘The Antidote; Happiness for People who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking’ provides a logical, well-researched answer to my question.

In his book, Oliver follows a long line of thought from ancient Greek Stoics to Buddhism, to modern psychologists and thinkers such as Albert Ellis, to demonstrate that our constant struggle to erase sadness, failures, insecurities, and uncertainties, is precisely what makes us feel insecure, anxious, sad and ultimately unhappy. Instead of trying to blot out or numb those feelings with ‘positive thinking’, by using so-called ‘negative path’ we can learn to enjoy uncertainties, embrace insecurity, become familiar with failure and learn to value death.

Because all of them are part of living and by trying to overcome them through ‘feel-good’ mantras will only make things worse. How? By multiplying the efforts required; since we would no longer only need energy to deal with what has really happened to make us feel sad, or unhappy or insecure or anxious, but also for talking/thinking ourselves into ‘all is well’ state of mind.

In addition, recent studies showed that deliberate attempts to ‘program’ the mind to strictly positive thoughts and optimism can and do backfire, as the mind becomes pre-occupied with the evidence to contrary.

While the books such as ‘The Secret’ promise us unlimited happiness and success by having positive thoughts, Oliver remembers ancient Greek stoics who contemplated how to cope when one loses all things one holds dear. It was known as ‘premeditation of evil’ and it was devised to enable people to cope with whatever ‘evil’ may befall.

He also draws on Buddhist teaching that tranquillity comes from accepting that life in inherently insecure and impertinent.

Because those insecurities, misfortunes, mistakes, failures, and disappointments are all part of our human existence. When we allow ourselves to feel those feelings, we simply acknowledge our humanity and go with it rather than against it. Of course if ‘jumping for joy’ first thing in the morning comes naturally, by all means go for it. But if it does not; it might help to know that forcing yourselves to do it might not help despite all the affirmations.

So the next time you are frightened of losing your job and your livelihood, or friend is terrified of losing her or his loved one, instead of saying; ‘All is going to be fine, just turn your mind to positive thinking’, it might be best if instead you sit down and decide what to do if and when those things happen. While it may sound less cherry than repeating ‘magical’ mantras of eternal positivity and optimism, it is far more likely to prepare you for whatever occurs and in that truly empower you to deal with any misfortunes life bestows upon you/us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: Daniela

Reader, Writer, Mother, Freethinker, Habitual Day Dreamer, Blogger - Sharing Ideas, Poetry, Prose, and Conversations on the Lantern Post!

28 thoughts on “Power (or not) of positive thinking!”

  1. Daniela, you are spot on. I have always argued that the self help books don’t do their readers any good. The authors present impossible states that as you say to achieve would mean we have no time to do anything else.
    I feel if anyone is to be inspired, then for me a logical starting point would be to read about autobiographies. These in my view if are well researched and written tell the life of a man or woman in a more realistic sense. One can then be inspired in seeing as how another person facing an almost similar circumstance surmounted the problem or what he did that led to failure and then tailor your response depending on your present circumstances.

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    1. Hi there,
      Thank you very much for reading and commenting!
      There seems to be more and more of us thinking that way. Self-help, positive thinking industry has grown rich on selling and re-selling well regurgitated messages, and while if and when some people find it helpful – good for them, there are certainly other ways. And those other ways can be summarized by understanding that when one feels ‘down’ it might be better to embrace that feeling, go with it and work out what the realistic options are, instead of parroting various ‘mantras’. Reading autobiographies of other people who experienced life’s ups and downs and how they dealt with it, is certainly a valuable option.
      Kind Regards,
      Daniela

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  2. How true is that!!!!!!!!!!! I think people misinterpret the difference between peace and happiness. When we learn to deal the pain in life, is when we really grow up! For, “Into every life a little rain must fall.” The famous “THEY (whoever THEY are)” say that we only learn to grow with adversity and we become stronger. Perhaps in some ways the first part is true. I also will give some credence to “Ignorance is Bliss.” For instance: I went into child birth for the first time not terribly frightened. The next and next time….I knew what was coming…..Man, did I want to cancel the order at the onset of the first labor pain! 🙂

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    1. Hi Barbara,
      Thank you so much for reading and commenting, I just love the ‘cancel the order’ analogy … afraid was too late for that -:))!!! I totally agree with the notion that we grow through our life experiences!
      Kind Regards,
      Daniela

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  3. I remember when I was in Toastmasters (about 20 years ago!!) they did a affirmation every night & you repeated it, all. Plus there was a speech about positive THINKING. I took to repeating & repeating & repeating in my head positive things I wanted to be real (such as, ‘I believe I am valuable on this earth’). My thinking didn’t change. None of it worked.

    … Sorry!
    But an excellent post🙂

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    1. Hi,

      No need to be sorry, that is exactly what the post meant; to show that the so called power of positive thinking and affirmations do not actually work as the Oliver demonstrated in his book.
      Many thanks for reading and commenting!
      Daniela

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  4. For me, positive thinking is closer to acceptance. Rather than think how everything is wonderful, when it is not, I try to see everything that is indeed worth delighting in, and try to see how what I perceive as bad is not a disaster or terrible, but bearable.

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    1. You are right on the spot Clare! This is exactly the key to it all; our ability to bear whatever life throws (as it inevitably will) at us. This is where our true power lies.
      Thank you very much for reading and commenting,
      Kind Regards,
      Daniela

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  5. Thank you for writing this post and pointing us to “a thinking person’s” author who will discuss this topic from the negative viewpoint or ‘negative path’ as you’ve written. I’ve read so few self-help books because as a reader, one is literally “forced” to accept whatever the author supposes, and for me, acceptance of a thing without proof of a thing is unrelatable and irrelevant; thus, I’ve generally ignored this genre of books altogether.

    It looks like this book hasn’t yet been released in the US, but I’ll check into UK book sources and will definitely look forward to reading your recommendation. I also like makagutu’s recommendation about reading autobiographies; I believe they are extremely worthwhile when people want to examine their own lifetimes.

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    1. Hi,
      Yes, I completely agree with you. While some self-help books are certainly better than the others, the issues remain the same; pre-packaged advice, mantra, theory that will certainly bring fulfilment, happiness and riches to one and all who purchase it, quite similar to diet/fitness industry actually, also grown rich on selling proven-to-work-formulas.

      The book is quite new so I am not sure whether it has been released in the USA, but I got mine from the Amazon.

      Autobiographies are one of my favourite genres too -:)!

      Have a nice weekend,
      Daniela

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    1. Hi Waldo,

      Thank you very much for reading and commenting. Your mentioning of ‘critical thinking’ as well as ‘moderation’ is probably the key to the balancing act that could give realistic prospective.
      Kind Regards,
      Daniela

      Daniela

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  6. I tend to prepare for possible worst outcomes so there are Plans B & C waiting. It’s pessimism but it works because if the best happens I am happy and if the worst, then I’m ready. Love your post Daniela.

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    1. Hi,
      Actually having plans B and C is not pessimistic, but realistic and exactly what ancient Greeks and many other wise thinkers would do! I think you are right on the spot my dear!
      Thank you very much for reading and commenting,
      Daniela

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  7. i’m very glad to know i’m not the only one that feels the self help books are NO help at all.i tried to read them but as another blogger said…it was all unrealistic types of suggestions. great article!

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    1. Hi,
      I agree. I read few of them too and admittedly some are better than the others, the bottom line for me is – they amount to pre-packaged-works-for-all-if-you-will-only-buy-it mantra.
      Thank you very much for reading and commenting,
      Daniela

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  8. Hi Daniela
    As a buyer and reader of some of the self help / positive thinking books…I believe that the only person really helped by the book is the author or rather his pocketbook!

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  9. Hi Daniela,
    I was so pleased to see your post. I’ve seen some good reviews of this book and have been thinking about reading it because I get so tired of the relentless ‘positive thinking’ message. Your post has convinced me I must read it, rather than just thinking about getting around to it sometime. And guess what! The tiny local library down the road has it on the shelves.

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    1. Hi Janet,
      I am glad to hear that library has it, I am sure you will love reading it! I also got over relentless ‘positive thinking’ mantra and once I stumbled upon this book, it was quite a relief actually.
      Thank you for reading and commenting,
      All the Best,
      Daniela

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  10. I really don’t “buy” those self help books. The thing about positive thinking is that you may be fooling yourself. You have to balance in life, may be the hardest thing to do, and is something we all struggle with. Being sadness, showing weakness, knowing your struggles, or recognizing your mistakes, all do not equate to negative. Also, great expectation leads to great disappointment.

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    1. Hi,
      Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment. I think so too; balance is the key indeed and our ability to recognize and accept that life is made of many parts, including those that bring sadness and grief, is often far more helpful than any pre-packaged mantra for ever-lasting happiness.
      Best Wishes,
      Daniela

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  11. Daniela, I always find such wisdom in your posts! Oliver Burkeman’s book sounds like a wonderful read and an important antithesis to books like The Secret. I will have to add it to my to-read list!

    I have personally found in the last three years or so that sadness and failure are just as important as happiness, and (though it may sound paradoxical) an essential part OF happiness. It seems to me that one can not truly experience one without the other…

    Great post🙂

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    1. My dear Julie,

      Thank you very much for reading and commenting. Your visits always make the Lantern sparkle a bit brighter! Sadness and failures are just as part of our life as are happiness and success, presence and intensity of one is reflected in the other. Such is the ‘law’ of our existence. Once we know and accept that; we stop torturing ourselves with endless, (and futile) pursuits for ever lasting bliss.

      Many thanks and Keep Well,
      Daniela

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