Why ‘Positive Thinking’ Can Actually Make You Miserable Sometimes


“Positive Thinking” is the ultimate craze in the New Age movement. It all started with the book The Secret: Law Of Attraction, followed by a list of thousands of self-help books promoting  “positive thinking” as the main source of happiness and a formula to live the life of your dreams. Using real-life examples of people whose lives were changed just by applying the laws of thinking positively and repeating positive affirmations. But what if positive thinking can have the exact opposite effect on people? What if it actually yields negative results instead? Contrary to popular belief, it turns out positive thinking isn’t for everyone.

Canadian psychologist Joanne V. Wood and colleagues decided to test the effects of  “positive self-statements.” The theory was tested on a group of 249 students, they were asked to repeat “I am a lovable person,” and their self-esteem was measured before and afterwards. Those who already had high self-esteem did indeed feel better about themselves as it was aligned with what they already believed to be true about themselves. But for those with low self-esteem, the statement was not even close to how they truly felt about themselves which brought forth their insecurities even more. Wood suggested that “…outlandish, unreasonably positive self-statements, such as ‘I accept myself completely,’ are often encouraged by self-help books. Our results suggest that such self-statements may harm the very people they are designed for: people low in self-esteem.”

I am not condemning positive thinking, I am just saying maybe it is not for everyone, or maybe there are scenarios where we need to adopt other modes of thinking. Here are FIVE cases when we need to be more realistic:

1. When you don’t put in the effort.

Positive thinking can only amplify the greater good of the situation rather than change it. Therefore, if you have a test you didn’t study for, or a job interview you didn’t prepare for, no amount of positive thinking will ever help you pass the test or get the job. You have to put in the work and be positive in the outcome, rather than use positive thinking as some sort of magical formula that will make your dreams easily come true.

2. When it feeds your inner narcissist.

When you start thinking that you are more lovable, or smarter or healthier than you really are, you live in a state of denial. It can often lead you to delude yourself, if you think you are the smartest person in the room, or you can get away with practically anything because you are popular, it may actually backfire if your sense of self isn’t realistic.

3. When it leads to unrealistic thoughts.

Sometimes people magnify positive thinking to the extent that they believe that their thoughts will change the course of their life. Thinking that you will win the lottery or that your happily married love of your life will come back to you can actually hold you back from reality and make you live in a state of illusion that will yield more resentment towards your present life and yourself.

4. When you confuse it with fate.

Since we are being told that we are responsible for our thoughts, and we can control our mind and trick the universe into giving us what we want. We often fall short when it comes to the situations that we truly have no hand in-such as illness, accidents, deaths, & natural disasters. Positive thinking can never change our fate or the fate of those around us. Positive thinking can only help us overcome life’s hurdles by how we choose to react to them, but it will never be the miracle in disguise.

5. When you think it will happen overnight.

When starting the process of positive thinking, often people think their lives will turn around overnight. Positive thinking is a process that involves a multitude of other factors for it to work and truly “make our lives better.” It is pretty much reinforced by positive behavior and positive action and the ability to continue working on ourselves rather than solely surrender to the philosophy that positive thinking alone can save us.

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The best way to go about positive thinking is to make it the icing on top of the cake rather than the dough. Instead of focusing on being positive, focus on finding meaning in your life. Instead of focusing on positive affirmations, focus on building connections that will help you be a better person. Instead of being fixed on “magical thinking” tap into your inner awareness and find the strengths in your capabilities. Try to practice “balanced” thinking instead in order not to lose yourself in the pursuit of happiness. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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