Many people have realized that positive thinking doesn’t always work: what they want is not necessarily going to happen with positive thinking. Experts say we have undoubtedly entered a period where we embrace a kind of “mild pessimism” that helps us accept that sometimes life does not go our way.
That this is so is not necessarily bad, however. The mind has long become accustomed to this extreme polarity which makes us qualify things as “good” or “bad”. Maybe it’s time to understand that besides black and white, there is also gray. And that there is a silver lining in the total darkness.
Thinking positive has been a recurring piece of advice for many decades, a lifeboat to hold onto during tough times. He said to himself that injecting optimism into the brain prevents us from falling into defeatism and helplessness.
However, we have arrived at a present and a context in which uncertainty is a constant. A context where fears settle in the recesses of our mind. Perhaps now there is a need to internalize another perspective which, without banishing positivity and hope, allows us to navigate more effectively between current challenges.
Why doesn’t positive thinking always work?
Positive thinking has its staunch supporters and opponents. There is no such thing as a happy medium. The psychological approach popularized by personalities like Martin Seligman or Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in the 90s, oppose critical voices like that of the psychologist Julie K. years, warning us of something very specific.
In her 2001 book, The Positive Power of Negative Thinking, she indicates that our culture has established a somewhat childish view of what positivity is. Seligman’s lessons have been reduced to a fad that makes us believe that everything will work out seeing the bright side in life.
According to Dr. Norem, we have reached an extreme point where we consider that something is wrong with someone’s character if they have trouble perceiving the light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s be clear: there are times when it’s impossible to see the bright side in life.
And that this is happening is not only understandable, we must also prepare for it. As Viktor Frankl has pointed out, it is normal to react in unusual ways when faced with unusual situations. That’s why thinking positively doesn’t always work. Let’s analyze the reasons.
Not knowing how to deal with negative results
Repeating to yourself over and over that “everything will be fine” can be counterproductive. This approach based on satisfactory results ignoring other possibilities is dangerous. We could indeed be emotionally and psychologically caught off guard in case things don’t go as well as we hope.
The best thing to do in these situations is to apply a realistic approach. For example: “I hope things go well, but if they don’t, I will face any outcome. I will accept it and apply adequate strategies of confrontation. “
Positive thinking can lead us to adopt a passive attitude
Julie K. Norem explains to us in her book that it is advisable to adopt a somewhat pessimistic perspective on our reality. It’s about looking at all the possibilities and telling ourselves “ whatever I want and hope can happen, but there are also chances that things will turn out badly. What should I do then in such circumstances? “
Anxiety and stress
The anxious mind has the peculiarity of not being able to see the good side of life. Thinking positive then does not always work when we are feeling worried, stressed and emotionally nervous. These are situations in which we do not need to be told “calm down, everything is going to be fine”. We just don’t believe it.
In this context, approaches such as that offered by acceptance and commitment therapy are interesting. More precisely, it helps us, for example, to understand that life is not easy and that we have the right to sometimes feel hopeless. However, we must not lose sight of our commitment to our well-being.
Extremes are never good: neither naive positivism nor chronic pessimism
Thinking positive doesn’t always work because life is unpredictable. Also because this approach can make us become bad managers of adversity, frustration, fear and suffering.
Life is a kaleidoscope of experiences. Sometimes they are good, sometimes bad and sometimes just normal. You have to learn to navigate all these oceans on calm days and stormy nights.
Does that mean it’s better to be pessimistic? Not at all. We are indeed living in a complex present and we have already understood that this formula does not work. Extremes are never good.
We must be realistic and learn to tolerate unforeseeable and even painful events. This does not mean, however, that we should not continue to nurture hope: it is an existential necessity. The best strategy is to believe that better times will come and that we can handle the difficulties.