In 1952, Norman Vincent Peale wrote a book by that name that went on to become a landmark for many years to come. It’s been the cause of controversy ever since. It was a major debate during the 1950s particularly during the elections in the US. Elsewhere, it’s been used as the basis of this philosophy and many have adopted it ever since.
So, what does it actually entail? And what are its critiques? Do people find it beneficial?
It’s a broad topic that requires proper research and lots of reading, so we’ll take a quick glimpse here, to give you a general idea about the topic.
What Is Positive Thinking?
Before Peale, the concept was first introduced as positive mental attitude in 1937 by Napoleon Hill in the book “Think and Grow Rich”.
The concepts are quite similar except that Peale leaned on a slightly more religious approach.
The name itself gives a pretty good indication of what it’s about. Thinking positively however isn’t exactly accurate enough to encompass what it means.
In the book, Peale gives ten rules necessary to adopt the system, here are the major ones;
- Picture yourself succeeding.
- Think a positive thought to drown out a negative thought.
- Minimize obstacles.
- Do not attempt to copy others.
- Repeat “If God be for us, who can be against us?” ten times a day.
- Develop a strong self-respect.
All authors who have represented the case of positive thinking always lean on similar rules, and most important of all, visualization.
The idea is that negative thoughts are the major reason why one might face obstacles or fail in the challenges they come up against. So, in order to avoid this, according to Peale and others like him, if you visualize success, then you create positive happy thoughts that would in a sense clear your mind of the major reason you stumble, negative thoughts.
Does It Work?
There is a ton of feedback online and throughout recent history of people utilizing this method. The majority of the cases you will find are positive.
Most people claim their lives improved exponentially.
John Hopkins expert Lisa R. Yanek, M.P.H, and her colleagues published a paper that showed that positive people were 13% less likely to suffer a heart attack or any other coronary event.
Researchers suggest that there is a direct correlation between the both.
Negative thoughts don’t just pass by, they have a negative impact on the body. For example, stress causes the body to react in a certain way that can be detrimental to the immune system on the long run. So naturally, the less stress you suffer, the healthier your immune system will be, the happier you’ll become.
You’ll find my advocates for it especially since more and more self-help books get published that revolve around the same concepts as positive thinking, such as “The Secret”.
It’s also a favorite of celebrities. Many in the spotlight believe that positive thinking is one of the main reasons they got to where they are.
Is that it?
The research for the benefits is sound and solid. People feel better, look better and act better in general as a result of positive thinking.
But that’s not the end of the story.
The problem with positive thinking is that it’s simply not real.
It is a method used by many, it is attributed in many success stories, but it does not hold any bearing in of itself. There is no academic literature that supports it wholeheartedly. Your thoughts will not change reality, they should simply react to it. That reaction can be accurate, or inaccurate.
A positive or negative approach to reality makes us unable to visibly judge and engage properly with our surroundings.
Imagine you decided blue was your favorite color, so you decide to wear blue-tinted shades. That doesn’t mean the world is now suddenly bluer and that things are turning your way because its color is more to your liking. The world is still the same, you’re not seeing it clearly.
And in reality, we need to be realistic, or maybe even a little pessimistic.
In a seminal study, James Shepherd and his colleagues conducted a study on college students regarding how they perceived their grades would be before the semester began, then during, then right before the grades were announced and finally afterwards. Naturally most students begin with an optimistic approach. However, that changes as the semester goes by and gets only darker and grimmer.
Ultimately, this is called bracing for the worst, and it’s what we should normally do when we’re about to encounter negative news.
According to most experts and psychologists, amongst whom is Kate Sweeny, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of California, there are four major areas where positive thinking is detrimental:
- Your health
- Your love life
- Your friendships
- Your mental health
Regarding health, it was found that people who are less optimistic, take better care of themselves because they fear more for themselves than optimists would. Many studies regarding breast cancer that women who worried more, got more life-saving procedures in time because they bothered to check.
Regarding love life, relationship researchers Lisa Neff and Ben Karney found that a dose of realism is far better for long term relationships and marriages than positivity. Spouses who were more realistic had a better idea of their partner’s personality defects and weaknesses, and were therefore more equipped to help and embrace them during their mistakes or their time of need. A positive outlook resulted in more damaged relationships because partners would overlook each other’s mistakes in an effort to minimize obstacles or to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
Regarding friendships, we all like the vibe and energy of a positive person. But when things get tough and times are hard, being around them can be irritating. They seem out of touch, which they are, because they are dissociating themselves from the negativity around them, including yours.
They’re not gonna listen and sit quietly, they will try to find a silver lining where there isn’t one.
Regarding mental health, positive thinkers are putting themselves at major jeopardy. One of the first markers of mental disorders, is an inability to accurately define and react to reality. As mentioned earlier, they cease to properly see what should be see, and instead try to enforce what they want to see. It’s understandable, seeking positivity is ultimately seeking happiness, but that has been proven to be a costly and miserable endeavor.
In conclusion, too much of a good thing is generally bad. We need to be in touch with what hurts in this world. Life is hard, and trying to change that fact instead of dealing with it will only result in failure and misery.
Be as happy as you can be, but don’t go chasing happiness. Be realistic and mature in your judgments, and weigh every thought you have in a measured manner that is fair to you, and to what is real.