Positive Thinking Is Rubbish (Sometimes)

emotional intelligence negative emotions resilience Oct 11, 2020

From the time we are children, “positive thinking” is pounded into us.

We are bombarded with sentiments like:

  • “Look on the bright side!"
  • "Don’t be sad."
  • "Stay positive."
  • "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

The sentiment behind these pep-talks is admirable: A lot can be said about focusing on positive, empowering thoughts.

But the truth is that forcing positive thoughts when you feel lousy doesn’t work.

In fact, it can actually make you feel worse.

In one study, subjects were told of an unhappy event, but then instructed not to feel sad about it. They were, in essence, told to stay positive.

Guess what happened? 

They ended up feeling worse than subjects who were told of the event, but given no instructions about how to feel.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

That’s right ...

If you are told to feel better when you aren’t ready to feel better, you end up feeling worse.

We call this the “tyranny of positive thinking.”⠀⠀⠀⠀

Sometimes, it can feel downright awful to search for that damn silver lining.

When your emotions are trying to rise to the surface, you simply cannot force yourself to feel better, nor should you try.

The truth is, your emotions exist for a reason.

They have important messages for you, and trying to stuff them is akin to holding your breath after sprinting. It’s counter-productive.

We have all had the experience of stuffing down anger, for example, only to have it explode in an overreaction the next time we’re triggered. Ignoring emotions almost always makes them bigger.

So, what should we do instead of ignoring negative emotions? We should embrace them. If we ask ourselves what they are trying to tell us, we can figure out exactly what we need to feel better.

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