On positive thinking

I’ve never been a fan of positive thinking. I prefer honesty even when it hurts or reveals the things we’d rather not know. Expressing a range of different emotions is what being human is all about. There’s a place for happiness, sadness, grief, anger, fear, love, concern, and worry and I don’t think it’s wise to suppress our emotions. As Nimzovich – a famous chess player – once said, “One cannot always be happy”.

I have never suffered from depression so perhaps I’ve got this wrong but I think it’s unwise to tell a depressed person to lighten up and be happy. Doing so simply avoids the cause of the depression and makes it impossible to address. Kind of like sweeping the dirt under the carpet.

I like action and problem solving. When I find a problem I want to fix it or at least try to. This is probably why I find the climate change problem so frustrating because there’s very little that I, as an individual, can do.

I have never understood how parents of autistic children need to go through three or more experts before they can accept their child has autism but this is quite common. It was very obvious to me right from the beginning that Daniel was different. The diagnosis itself was a huge relief because it meant support and understanding and the beginning of action to solve the problem rather than pretending it wasn’t there. I like to be in control and you can’t be in control if you’re pretending the problem does not exist. I think this is partly why I’m so terrified of earthquakes as they’re totally unpredictable.

There’s a good article in the NYTimes – The Problem with Positive Thinking – in which studies have found that positive thinking diminishes our ability to solve the problems we are facing today.

The students who had positively fantasized reported feeling less energized than those in the control group. As we later documented, they also went on to accomplish less during that week.

Positive thinking fools our minds into perceiving that we’ve already attained our goal, slackening our readiness to pursue it.

This is not to say that I don’t think having dreams and hope are not good for us. They are. But I think what’s more important is honesty, sincerity, and compassion. If we can find those things, we find happiness too.