This question was presented to me by a thoughtful friend:
“Would you tell someone to think positive in all circumstances?”
I felt put on the spot. I wanted to say YES, but I didn’t…I said “generally, yes.” I clearly couldn’t speak for everyone, but overall I thought we should at least try to think positively.
As our conversation continued, she brought up an important point, one I’d not thought about til then. She believed there was a growing “cult of positivity” blaming victims for their circumstances. Her comment gave me pause for thought. Although I don’t share her same ideology about “victimhood,” there’s clearly something to be said for empathy, understanding, gentleness and using your positive vibes in a beneficial way.
Using the phrase, “just think positive” can indeed leave people who are troubled and suffering feeling more alone and hopeless than if nothing had been said at all. In a way, the insistence to think positive, (no matter what) can come across like, “put a lid on it.” Or, “don’t make waves, don’t complain.” Often these words can make people feel silenced, like it’s not okay to talk about things that hurt or seem unfair.
Having a positive mental attitude (PMA) is not something we can “expect” of others. It is personal, and shouldn’t be launched as a directive on people who have grievances. Being positive doesn’t mean we can’t talk about important issues or listen when someone needs to share a negative, painful experience. Bringing things into the light is how people heal – the first step in getting to a more positive place.
For me, developing a PMA is a personal decision. It isn’t something I tell other people to do. It’s like my yoga practice, or meditation, something I aspire to whenever possible. When all the world around me is swirling, the only thing I have any control over is my thinking and I want to choose positive thoughts whenever I can. Read: Viktor Frankl’s, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Circumstances come and go continuously. We have no control over other people, places, events, or even the things in our lives, but we do control our thoughts – these, we can master if we work on it.
But why, if life seems crappy would we work on positive thinking?
Even when people are in the midst of major problems, positive thinking can go a long way in bringing resolution or change. Positive thinking is generative, creative and inclusive, all the ingredients needed for problem solving. So when things become their worst, I personally want the ability to think in a way that gives me the tools to find a solution. A positive mindset keeps me in the present, the best place to discover new and innovative ways of dealing with things.
Anywho…in response,…Although I might share what I think are the benefits of, I’d never tell someone to just”think positive.” That would be like telling them to not feel what they feel. How, or what someone wants to think is their own business. Being told how to think (positive) can easily be taken as insensitive and assuming since you can never really know how someone else feels. The better thing to say might be, “how can I help?” If someone wants to shift their circumstances and attitude from negative to positive, they’ll let you know how to assist and that’s always where you can do the greatest good.