Can Positive Thinking Create Negative Thoughts? (Part I)

I have long felt that we Americans (US) are overly preoccupied with creating a positive mental attitude. In fact in some circles like business and athletics a positive mental attitude (PMA) is a means to the ultimate performance in that profession. For those living alternative lifestyles, especially those involved in alternative healing methods, PMA can be the actual foundation upon which their lives are built. I have always thought this to be psychologically unhealthy. And now it seems that others are beginning to agree. [See “Can Positive Thinking Be Negative?” By Scott O. Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz; SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MIND, May/June 2011].

Now don’t start clicking your tongue and wagging your finger at me. I am not saying that positive thoughts are wrong. Positive thoughts flow spontaneously and joyously through a healthy body – mind. What I object to is the stilted attempt at generating positive thinking out of negative being. To do so we have to deny negativity. This too is unhealthy.

In a recent article by psychologist Tori Rodriguez [”Taking the Bad with the Good” SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MIND, May/June 2013] he tells us, “Although positive emotions are worth cultivating, problems arise when people start believing they must be upbeat all the time. … anger and sadness are an important part of life, and new research shows that experiencing and accepting such emotions are vital to our mental health. Attempting to suppress thoughts can backfire and even diminish our sense of contentment.”

We believe that a positive thought will neutralize a negative thought. It just isn’t true. If it were, we would all be living eudemonia simply by virtue of, as the old song suggests, “accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative”. There is no argument that life is one long emotional roller coaster ride. But that’s good. The contrast adds depth and meaning to our lives. Negativity is a natural part of life. “Unpleasant feelings are just as crucial as the enjoyable ones in helping us make sense of life’s ups and downs.” Rodriguez warns. There is no rocket ride straight to happiness and to believe it so is truly living with our head in the clouds.

[Continued: Can Positive Thinking Create Negative Thoughts? (Part II)

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