The Misconceptions of Positive Thinking

Written by Noemie Akridge

If you have ever wanted to take care of yourself, to put your thoughts on hold or to give your soul a well deserved rest; then you have probably tried the abundantly praised practice of “positive thinking”. However, in spite of being a philosophy bedecked with good intentions, it comes with a lot of tricky and dangerous misconceptions. Many mistake “positive thinking” with “positive psychology” and end up entangled in destructive life habits. Having a positive attitude towards life events is a form of empowerment but a healthy positive attitude needs to be cultivated with care, love and a robust dose of discernment.

Positive Thinking IS NOT Positive Psychology : how to differentiate them?

Positive Psychology is a relatively new discipline in the spectrum of modern psychology. Researched and theorised by Dr. Martin Seligman, positive psychology is referred to as the “scientific theory of happiness”. However, a lot of people still think that “positive thinking” and “positive psychology” are the same thing. Always remember : they are not. Positive Emotions constitute one of the five elements in Dr Seligman’s PERMA concept. Indeed, pursuing meaning in life and maintaining healthy, nourishing relationships is as important as it is meaningful but it is essential to remember that positivity is not a means to an end. As a matter of fact, seeking the concept of “happyology” at all costs can become dangerously deceptive and lead to serious psychological consequences.

Don’t ignore your negative emotions.

This is precisely when the positive thinking approach becomes treacherous : negative emotions should never be ignored or undermined. Under no circumstances should you ever try to eradicate negativity from your life by covering it up with forced positive thoughts, false ideas of happiness and fake smiles.

Covering up traumas, moments of doubt, depression or grief will result in perilous disorders in our emotional, intellectual and behavioural continuum.

What many psychiatrists call “post-traumatic growth” starts from the postulate that all the hard times we face in life, through the process of confronting and overcoming them, lead to a radically positive and enriched outcome. Denying your deepest feelings, positive or negative, will always impact your life in a significant way. Your identity and soul constitute a complex canvas woven with all your past experiences, traumas, memories, accomplishments, successful relationships, failures as well as successes. The people who praise this deceptive concept of “positive thinking” the most are self-help Gurus.

Positive Psychology is not a Guru’s discipline.

As women, finding a community and opening ourselves to others in a safe space where we can process our emotions is not an easy task. As we stated before, the guru-based form of “self-help positive thinking” philosophy can be dangerously delusive and is not linked in any way to positive psychology itself as a scientific practice. Should you need a spiritual guide, someone to read and listen to in order to grasp the real benefits of a positive attitude and how to properly include it in your life, dive into the exceptional work of Daniel Kahneman for example. He won a Nobel Prize in 2002 and co-edited a major positive psychology book : “Well-Being : The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology” in which the notions of well-being, self-help and positivity are researched and dissected. Remember that whatever you are spiritually seeking in life, it is always more fulfilling to allow yourself to be inspired by a substantiated philosophy instead of being shaped by a guru-made doctrine.

It is not all about the quest for happiness.

Most importantly, always remember that the goal is not the desperate pursuit of happiness. Although we don’t have control over all the events in our lives, we have the power to respond to them with a positive, or simply authentic attitude and proactive behaviour.

Gratitude, optimism, spirituality and intellectual stimulation are all incredible means to galvanize yourself, nurture a positive attitude and walk the continuous path of happiness.

Working and focusing on behaviours that will lead you to embrace an enhanced frame of mind and functional thinking patterns will indubitably guide you towards an uplifting mindset. This is where the real concept of self-help resides: knowing yourself, analyzing and optimizing your behaviours, thought paradigms and spiritual awakenings.

Positivity : science or philosophy?

All in all, the trap set by the “positive thinking” movement can be sneaky and imposturous. Happiness and positivity are not a science nor a clear result of positive thinking alone. Positive psychology is positioned right at the point where the classic Humanistic Psychology and contemporary Experimental Research roads cross. Building on antique concepts like the Eudaimonia of Aristotle and modern humanistic principles like the person centred therapy of Carl Rogers, positive psychology tries to help us identify genuine sources of happiness (from within) when positive thinking tries to make us feign it.

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

- Carl Rogers

You are a positive force and you are empowered.

Does not all the beauty of a positive attitude reside in this life-scale weather forecast: “Happy with a chance of tears”? As empowered women, we should never be taken away from our emotions, whatever they are. Crying, being angry, being sad and being disappointed can be  healthy and perfectly natural emotional experiences on our way to spiritual elevation. The key is in understanding the origin of these emotions and why we feel this way. Positive thinking should never be used to cover up our emotions and cloister us into an emotional prison. Be proud of your feelings, embrace your emotions, they are the pillars of your identity, energy and femininity. Get to know yourself deep down in your heart and a positive philosophy, a positive attitude will arise from any situation, relationship or discussion. You are a positive force in the world when you own it.

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