Thoughts on the problem of positive thinking

I have always been skeptical of the philosophy of ‘positive thinking’.  It always seemed to me that ‘positive thinkers’ are phony or artificial.  There always seemed a lack of genuineness about this point of view.   Something just seemed to bother me about it.

This became very clear to me when a friend and me used to go to these psychological self-help seminars for fun (way back when I was studying psychology).  I used to see this point of view a lot.  All these people running around being ‘Mr. Positive’.  Many times they’d emphasize ‘positive energy’ like it infects everything and influences everyone around them.  At one seminar there was a sign that said something like, “CAUTION:  HIGH POSITIVE ENERGY”.  As I watched everyone I could see something wasn’t right.  But they all seemed happy and, at least initially, seemed to benefit from it.  For some reason, it actually sickened me watching this.  As I thought about it I wondered why.

Basically, it seems to me that positive thinking is primarily a delusion.  You’re basically trying to ‘trick’ yourself into being happy.  It’s like some big game.

Now, I’m not saying it’s all bad.  Many times in life you have to force yourself to be happy or ‘positive’ in order to be that way, but that’s not what this is.  I could see that, behind this philosophy, were other darker things.  In a way, it seemed to be a hiding from these things. 

It was while watching many of these self help groups that I realized how empty people were in the world.  Most of these people were only trying to find ‘something’ to believe in and live for.  It didn’t take a genius to see that many of the people who choose to be positive thinkers are motivated by an emptiness. 

For some people, positive thinking becomes like a drug and is intoxicating.  This seems most prevalent with females. 

It’s true that some people do seem to have a positive mentality.  But even that can be deceiving.  Many of these people seem to lack genuiness, they lack a depth.  Many, I’ve found, seem to have problems dealing with pain and conflict.   Many people who are positive thinkers are also using a positive mentality to as if to ‘escape’ life, to create a false utopia, to make the world a pleasanter place.  Everywhere I turned it seemed that behind much positive thinking is a fear, a trying-to-avoid, an escape from some fact in life. 

It seems that being positive all the time prevents people from seeing the ‘other side’ of life.  By this, I mean the dark emotions and feelings that make up life.  These dark or negative aspects of life often bring out the depth of life.  These are also necessary for growth.  Depriving yourself of this aspect of life deprives you of growth and I could see this in positive thinkers.

One of the problems with positive thinking is that it is not a life viewpoint.  You cannot base life purely on this point of view.  This, unfortunately, is what many people did and I think that is where the problem is at.  This philosophy, though it sounds good and means well, does not have the depth or scope to be a life viewpoint.  Its conception of things is very narrow and small.  The ‘power of positive thinking’, I think, is to practice it from time to time and to fit the situation, not to make a life out of it.

This philosophy seems very prominent in the US.  I’m not sure but I always thought it was big in the northeast.  That’s where a lot of individualism is looked at highly.  I could see that positive thinking as a philosophy was really an offshoot of individualism which is rather prominent in that area.  I’ve actually seen positive thinking displayed as a “it’s what I think and shows the power of my self and what I can do” before.  It’s a way of glorifying the individual.  Is it any wonder it developed in the US and in this area?

In short, then, it seems to me that positive thinking is as bad as negative thinking.  It’s better to have a little of both and to practice a little of both.  In short, thinking positive is a good habit, but not as a life viewpoint.  It should be mixed in with the other emotions of life, but not to the point that it completely overrides these other emotions.

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