For many people their thoughts are something sacred, something that is entirely private, they can’t be hacked, they can’t be revealed without the express decision to do so. You can think what you want. But maybe you can’t. The things that we think, negative or positive, taint the way that we see the world and so they affect our own realities, therefore surely there is something to be said about being positive?
Before I start: obviously, there is no way that we can be positive all the time, life has ups and downs which we have to acknowledge. Sometimes we have to experience the sadness, there is no way out of it but through it and in those situations denial is unhelpful and even harmful – negative emotions in these situations may not be avoidable, but at the very least we can be aware of it and seek help where and when we need it.
Positivity is the ability to see the good, even when things aren’t going so well. It allows us to see more ways out of a situation, we can be more innovative. This phenomenon in the literature is known as the broaden-and-build hypothesis. (1) For a long time researchers have known that negative emotions have the opposite affect: we shut down, we can only see the path that is in front of us, and I won’t deny that it can be useful in some situations where you just need to remove yourself. As one article I read put it: when you see a tiger, the presiding emotion is fear – which focuses your energy on running away, though there may be many other options available to you: climb a tree or grab a stick, but they don’t seem as important as removing yourself from the tigers vicinity. (2) However in modern society we do not come across tigers casually walking down Oxford Street, so maybe we need to consider changing the way we think.
Another aspect of positivity is thinking good things for other people and genuinely wishing them happiness and success. It is so much heavier to think ill of someone through jealous eyes than to be happy for them, and at the end of the day, though things may be going well for someone at this particular point it may all go to hell the next day. No one needs people wishing them ill from afar because life is difficult enough as it is, we should all be supporting and celebrating each other.
It should be mentioned here that this is by no means easy, the human brain is wired to remember the bad – it’s a survival instinct. (3) Overcoming something so ingrained in ourselves is never going to be easy. But nothing worthwhile is ever easy is it?
So send people happy thoughts when things go well for them, just because they are happy and successful does not mean that you have to be miserable and a failure. Try to see the good in the world, and be aware of what you are thinking.
- Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought-action repertoires. Fredrickson, Barbara L. and Branigan, Christine. 3, Michigan : Psychology Press, 2005, Cognition and Emotion, Vol. 19, pp. 313 – 332.
- Clear, James. The Science of Positive Thinking: How Positive Thoughts Build Your Skills, Boost Your Health, and Improve Your Work. Huffington Post. [Online] October 7, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-clear/positive-thinking_b_3512202.html.
- Bad is stronger than good. Baumeister, Roy F. and Bratslavsky, Ellen. 4, 2001, Review of General Psychology, Vol. 5, pp. 323-370.