I Hope You’re Happy

Here are some WORTHWHILE snippets from an article I read today, focused primarily on the problems with the “Positive Thinking” phenomena especially of the American variety, as well as some of the responders comments.

MY response is in bold italics at the bottom of this post.

Please stick with me to the end…. 😉



…Over the years I have grown quite grumpy about positive thinking. I don’t object to it as a general life strategy, of course; but the oversimplified litany of alleged benefits it produces is scientifically problematic. …

… Let’s start with optimism. When something bad happens to you, it certainly seems logical that it is healthier to assume that you will come through it okay than to gloomily mutter, “I knew it. The whole world is against me, including Minneapolis and Tasmania.” In a fundamental way, optimism in the face of occasional setbacks makes life possible. If people are going through a rough patch but believe things will get better eventually, they are more likely to keep striving to make that prediction come true. ..

… For optimism to reap its benefits .. we might say a skeptical optimism is required. You can recite “Everything is good! I’m adorable! Everything will work out!” 20 times a day, but it won’t get you much (except worried glances from your neighbors). It must be grounded in reality, spurring people to take better care of themselves, regard problems and bad news as difficulties they can overcome, and get off the couch to solve their problems. Optimism needs a behavioral partner. …

… The answer wasn’t optimism or other forms of positive thinking. It was conscientiousness—the ability to persist in pursuit of goals, work hard but enjoy the work and its challenges, and be responsible to others and for one’s obligations. Conscientious people are optimists in the sense that they believe their efforts will pay off, but, more important, they act in ways to make that expectation come true. …

… To be effective, praise and self-affirmation must be grounded in reality: the person has to focus on his or her actual strengths, positive values, and good qualities and then use them to choose and work toward realistic goals. …

… [historical schools of philosophical thought] understood that self-defeating ways of thinking can keep people stuck and suffering. Of course, how we think affects how we feel and how we act. But the problem our society faces is not that more people need to THINK positively. …



**Given the fact that we are not sure (1) what genuine happiness is, (2) how to go about optimizing it, (3) whether it can be taught, or even (4) whether excessive positivity may be inherently self-defeating, I hold with those who favor seeking balance in daily living between altruism and selfishness, frugality and extravagance, commitment and freedom. It is okay, even healthy, to feel mad or upset when you miss a job opportunity or lose touch with an old friend so long as these emotions are fleeting and do not interfere with your ability to function in a productive manner long term, as if affected by a potent drug addiction. Do good, feel good; do evil, feel bad; do bad, feel nothing and you might be a sociopath! It is important a person does not dwell on past experiences, either good or bad, for extended periods of time. Conversely, to pretend as if your memories—whether pleasant or not—are nonexistent could cause unforeseen emotional damage to yourself and others. …

**Blind, mindless euphoria cannot be a good thing. If a person actively pursues positive thoughts at every chance they get, they are apt to be not very vigilant or proactive. A high degree of positive thinking is probably self-limiting, because sooner or later the consequences of your actions lived by day in plain sight with unseeing eyes will come to haunt you at night. Confronted with a significant problem or injustice, who is willing to lull themselves over with the phrase, “Don’t worry, be happy”? According to sociologists Allan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield, sadness’ evolutionary purpose is clear. (The loss of Sadness: How psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder. 2007.) …

**Aristotle wrote that happiness is the principle of living well and doing well and is preferred for the sake of itself and never because of something else. In other words, it is in favor of happiness that all of us do all that remains. Sam Harris agrees that the principle of morality is wellbeing – not a feeling but the activity of living well. Thus, positive thinking smacks of aiming at the feeling of wellbeing as a substitute for those activities that naturally lead to wellbeing. Genuine health is as difficult to define as genuine happiness. The habits of activities maintaining health are not the same as thinking of yourself as healthy. In the same way, thinking of yourself as happy is not the same as happiness – and changing one doesn’t necessary lead to change in the other. …

**If one starts from the assumption that an objective of all humans is to have as happy a life on earth as possible, then presumably it makes sense to try and increase the aspects of life that improve that happiness and minimize those that have the opposite effect. Psychology, as a discipline, focused on the latter until recently when emphasis began to be placed on identifying those aspects of life that positively enhanced general happiness for humans. It seems to me that interpreting “positive psychology” as “positive thinking” is misguided…positive thinking may be one of the many factors that improve general happiness but it is by no means the only one. …

**I like this statement by Ray Bradbury. Though in the context of writing, I believe it applies to many areas of life. “I don’t believe in optimism. I believe in optimal behavior. That’s a different thing … Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad – you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.” …

**In general, I agree with the article and, in fact, I think what I would call over optimism is a problem with the US in general; ie, believing that there are no limits on what we can do. Obviously, thinking things are good when they are not can only lead to trouble. On the other hand, I suspect that having a generally positive outlook on life-or at least a belief that life is susceptible to human action-more likely leads to optimal behavior than a view that all is doomed. You need some level of belief that things actually can be better. Negativity leads to fatalism, which is an acceptance that life is what it is and nothing will change. Moreover, being overly pessimistic can be as unrealistic as being overly optimistic. The key, obviously, is finding some middle ground between blind optimism and paralyzing pessimism. …

**Well, whatever one might think is an overly positive attitude toward our expectations, skeptical thinking as a realistic alternative is overly negative. Curiously critical thinking with an open mind is the more pragmatic road to take. We have evolved to use a trial and error thinking system for the predictive purposes of learning from our mistakes. Use it as optimistically!! …



I liked the above snippets, and generally the INTENT of the article’s author, but on the whole I saw 2 big problems with the original post – the author’s conflation of “positive thinking” with “positive psychology” as if they are the same thing, and the conclusion (which I omitted) which in essence affirmed that it’s better to be a skeptic. Period.

As if “skepticism” is an end in and of itself. But that’s no better than making “optimism” an end in and of itself. (!)

In fact, I think the actual CONCLUSION of this article (like several of the commenters pointed out in various ways in response) SHOULD have been emphasis on positive ACTION + perseverance.

HOPE – not mere wishful thinking or mere “laying hold of some kind of positive energy,” but genuine HOPE that seeks for what is TRUE [“I HOPE it is TRUE that…”] – is the birthplace of FAITH, and FAITH when it is properly applied results in right ACTION (hm, LOVE if you will?). It is the progression of the three that will expose the “truthfulness” of the OBJECT towards which they are aimed.

It is not the means (positive thinking, et al) by which we “GET [read ‘feel’] happy” that should be the focus, but rather placing hope+faith+action in viable, real objective and obtainable truth/outcome. Even “faith” as a means will fail if it becomes the object, itself.

What are we placing our faith IN?

Our souls genuinely love what is TRUE, so it stands to reason that the closer we get to the TRUTH, the “happier” we will feel.

True and lasting happiness is the natural and enduring RESULT of right thinking/living, not the counterfeit emotional GOAL of it.




“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

(1 Corinthians 13:13 KJV)


happy pills

[Link to original article and comments]

About Grace2Grow

Leah holds a Bachelor's degree in Philosophy, and considers herself a forever-student at heart, especially of the Word of God. The last few years have included a 160+ lbs weightloss, and a complete re-working of her "inner man" as she has had to journey from merely what she "knew" to putting that into "ACTION" .. a transformation that so rocked her core, she believes God's calling in her life includes a sense of "urgency," as the body of Christ is fully - knowingly or unknowingly - entrenched in These Last Days, just as Jesus prophesied. She has worked in various forms of professional Customer Service for nearly 20 years, from Mortgages and Banking to Automotive Plastics, and values most the opportunity to mediate and problem-solve. Leah has served over the years in varying roles, from Women's Bible Study Leader to Choir Director to Worship Leading to teaching Sunday School to working faithfully in the Nursery. She loves being a Wife and Aunt and Sister and Daughter and Friend, and loves to read just about anything she can put her hands on. She is always re-learning putting feet and muscle to these things, but she has learned there is incalculable value in "working the plan," and "being faithful with LITTLE so as to be entrusted with MUCH." And she is trusting her beloved God and Savior for the "much" yet to come. You can find more of her musings on her blogs at http://grace2grow.com and http://grace2grow.blogspot.com/, or follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/grace2grow

Posted on February 19, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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