The Pitfalls Of Positive Thinking

Do you think Bob Marley was right when he sang Dont Worry Be Happy? After all, why really worry when we have so much to be grateful for? I, however, argue that American culture has imposed mandatory optimism on us which has led to a reflexive response to dismiss disturbing news. We don’t like feeling sad, so we ignore real facts, allowing problems to persist. This leads to our ignorance of what’s really going on in the world around us. If one complains or questions real issues, one is told to stop overanalyzing and put on a smiley face, because no one likes being around a pessimist.

This unspoken rule of positive thinking condemns us to spreading good cheer and making those around us feel comfortable and happy. Complaining is seen as pessimism because we shouldn’t have anything to complain about living in this altruistic and happy world. I believe that to see the beauty in everything attitude is completely delusional and harmful for several reasons.

Ignoring Problems Doesn’t Solve Them: Willful Ignorance

Facts don’t cease to exist because we ignore them. During the financial disaster in 07, people who tried to raise concerns or questions were shut up or fired.

  • You couldn’t say I’m worried about our subprime mortgage exposure or you’d be out.
  • People within Lehman Brothers who tried to point out that the housing prices could not last forever were fired.

In our personal lives:

In an effort not to raise drama,we refuse to talk negatively about things that are real issues. We tell people not to worry so much because life is short, be happy. We take no notice that we’ve completely undermined the significance of their worries and that whatever it is that is bothering them is a real issue in their lives. We need to understand that emotions arise subconsciously in our brains and our reactions to them are involuntary and happen at a subconscious level. Solutions to our worries will only arise when we confront them directly, make necessary adjustments, and move forward on a new path. Dont worry, be happy is all too often an unrealistic and unuseful answer.

To Solve Problems We Need To Realize We DO Have Power

My problem with the positive thinking ideology is the powerlessness of it all when in fact we DO have power, collective power. Our society believes that positive thinking implies that you ignore or avoid dealing with negative events, looking only for the good and denying the bad. This, however, is not the foundation of correct positive thinking (despite what many believe). Effective positive thinking means dealing with a negative event, allowing the appropriate amount of time for negative emotions to surface, and then moving on from the negativity by focusing on the positive and what can be done to improve upon it. It does not mean ignoring the negative event.

We are burying our heads in the sand because we are refusing to acknowledge upsetting information. As a result, it makes us intellectually inept and does nothing to solve problems. If we were more vigilant, open minded and open to new knowledge that challenges our existing beliefs, we could solve a lot of problems.

We are hardwired to be vigilant…and on guard, that is how our ancestors survived, not by saying everything’s probably okay.- Barbara Ehrenreich.

Were Not Actually Happy

Surprisingly, when psychologists took a meta-analysis to measure the happiness of nations, Americans ranked twenty-third surpassed by the Danish, the Malaysians, the Bahamians, the Austrians and even the Finnish. Research continuously finds that Americans are not very happy at all, despite adopting an optimistic way of life.

In addition, Americans account for two-thirds of the global market for antidepressants which also happen to be the most commonly prescribed drug in the United States. This leads us to ask, if a positive attitude is all we need to be happy, then why are we not actually happy?

Concluding Thoughts

In no way do I mean to advocate pessimism or gloom, those are also delusions. I don’t like people who complain yet do nothing to solve their problems. My suggestion is that we adopt an attitude of realism where we try to figure out what’s actually happening in the world and seeing what we can do about it.