This weekend I watched a bit on a news program that questioned the power of positive thinking.
“If things don’t go well, if you get sick, or if you lose your job, or fall into poverty, it must be your fault because you weren’t sending the right thoughts out into the universe,” said Barbara Ehrenreich, a breast cancer survivor and the author of Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America.
According to Ehrenreich, Americans discount reality for “magical thinking,” and she puts her stock in realism, rather than the promotion of positive thinking when it comes to dealing with adversity.
But adversity is a gift, right? We’ve all heard that, but then again some gifts suck.
Remember Ralphie wearing his gift from Aunt Clara in A Christmas Story?
It’s okay to not be okay with what arrives at our doorstep. It’s normal to feel angry, sad or confused. It’s okay to want to cry, even wallow. Our feelings are real, even if you feel like no one else feels the same way.
Ehrenreich mentioned feeling guilty for not feeling the can do positive spirit during her bout with cancer, and she said she was tired of feeling guilty.
And it’s easy to feel guilty if you think you’re supposed to smile over the pain, the depression and the fact that life as you knew it feels over. And even more guilt inducing if you complain only to hear: “I was complaining that I had no shoes till I met a man who had no feet.” (Confucius)
No one should be made to feel guilty about their choice of focus. Your adversity, your choice.
But what is guilt? Could it be something wired in us to perhaps get us to rethink our direction? If we are struggling with our reaction to something, is it because we want to think differently?
There are plenty of people who disagree with Ehrenreich, in fact many say making a plan for hope actually aids in mental healing.
Because there is scientific proof that positivity is helpful. “I think there is a part of attitude that may play a role, and we’re still trying to understand that,” said Dr. Barry Boyd, oncologist and director of nutrition and cancer for the Yale Health System. “Working to build hope and build optimism may, in some individuals, change the biology of their cancer.”
Of course there are experts who disagree. “I think there’s a ton of pressure based on the belief that if they’re positive that they’ll live longer,” said Dr. James Coyne a University of Pennsylvania psychologist. “And then the downside of that is that if they deteriorate and they ultimately die of cancer, that they are somehow left being blamed: If only they had been more positive.”
But positivity is not about denial, but about interpretation. Your feelings are true and you can’t help what you feel, but you can help what you do about those feelings.
Crap happens and no one is immune, but how does staying in the crappy moment of that reality do any good? What is wrong with hope? Why does deciding to focus on the positive equal fantasy?
Positivity isn’t a Pollyanna view. It doesn’t mean ignoring realities or neglecting self-care for good thoughts. There’s a difference between Pollyanna and making a plan for how to live the rest of your life after facing adversity.
Just because you look toward the bright side, doesn’t mean you are blinded from the truth.
I don’t think the power of positive thinking is about living LONGER, it’s about living BETTER.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space.
In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. in fact our response is the only thing we control.
In our response lies our growth and freedom.“
– Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
But not everyone believes that, and that is their prerogative. Some find value in cynicism, in much the same way some enjoy their Pollyanna glasses.
“One man’s toxic sludge is another man’s potpourri.” How the Grinch stole Christmas (2000)
In fact while looking at the reviews of several popular self-help books I saw plenty of negative ones that read, a lot of glass half full crap.
Cynical, right? But then again, that person not only read that self help book, but took the time to write a review.
Maybe they didn’t find what they were looking for, but still they were looking for something.
In the meantime, positive thinking is there for the taking.
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