If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, avoid positive thinking

It seems contradictory, but happiness is not something conjured up by working magic formulas. It is a genuine experience and largely a state of mind. It is the result of changing attitudes and, most importantly, actions, but it cannot be manufactured by chants and mantras.

It bothers me, it has always bothered me, how willingly and enthusiastically so many of us think that by speaking the right words according to some self-help guru’s formula will align the stars or set the forces of heaven in alignment with your life and somehow, someway create health where there is sickness, wealth where there is poverty, advantage where there is disadvantage, or gain where there has been loss. It is particularly annoying when those gurus are so-called Christians who claim that speaking the right words in “faith” will move God to do things He would not ordinarily do simply He is kind, benevolent, and gracious by nature; that He will let you set there in misery because you did not say the right words in the right order at the right time.

It is a return to primitivism and echoes paganism which requires mere mortals to perform certain rights and rituals so as to provoke the heavens to release rain, bless the crops, and keep the forces of nature at bay.

If you’re a positive thinker and/or a positive confessor/positive speaker, the problem lines up like this:

  1. You get a pain in your side, so you say, “I have a pain in my side.” Then you catch yourself because you erroneously think that your health, wealth, and well-being are dependent upon saying the right thing. So, you say, “No, wait a minute, I must think positively so I don’t have a pain in my side. I just think I have a pain in my side. I have a pain in my head.
  2. So, the pain gets worse and you get a hole in your side. You look at the hole in your side and say, Well look at that I have a hole in my side. Oh, wait a minute. I can’t say that. I don’t have a hole in my side I have a hole in my head.” (This is true J)
  3. Because positive thinking demands that one speak only positive things and never voice, even to yourself, that there is something wrong, and that you speak as though nothing were wrong, the hole in your side does not get better. You know the result. You end up dead.

Lest you think I am exaggerating or speaking conceptually, I can assure you that more than one friend or associate is no longer with us because they refused to acknowledge that a problem existed. Even more are mired in poverty, trapped in poor paying jobs, living in abusive relationships because they believe the snake oil salesmen who told them all they have to do is speak the right things long enough and the miraculous will happen.

 I cannot invest the time within limits of a blog post to thoroughly exhaust this subject, so please allow me to simply list out the highlights of this difficult subject.

  1. Positive thinking and positive speaking are not the same as a positive attitude. The first is superficial and rooted in nothing more substantial than wishful thinking. Thousands of books, perhaps millions, have been sold advocating a superficial approach to life’s challenges.
  2. Positive thinking and positive speaking without the depth of thought that supports a positive attitude will always make things worse, in some cases fatally so. Bad things happen to good people. Some of us try to find someone to blame or some way to explain it. This can be a dead end road ending on a slippery slope.  A positive attitude approaches the issues of life with an optimistic expectation that things can be better when ideas are applied to a problem with energy and intelligence.
  3. Positive thinking and positive speaking, as it is generally taught, spawns a comprehensive feeling of guilt within those who, when they try it, cannot make it work. I have counseled dozens of people, sincere and trusting people, who have spoken a positive word in the face of serious illness, confessed prosperity in the face of crushing debt, and become sicker or fallen deeper into poverty. Let me say this again, there are no words you can say, rituals you can perform, or chants you can sing that will fix your problem. Any accounts or testimonials to the contrary are fabrications, exaggerations, or outright lies.  (FYI, more than one faith healer has flown out of the country for medical treatment so word of their lack of faith would not damage their image or compromise their message and thus cut off the flow of donations.)
  4. Your vocabulary will doubtless change, but as an effect of a change in thinking, not as the cause of your happiness. When you do the right thing, i.e., you accurately and honestly identify your problem, apply the capacity to think God gave you, assemble resources in people, ideas, equipment, and the like, determine a plan of attack, and creatively devise a method for dealing with the problem.
  5. If you are struggling, suffering, poor, or sick, it is not because you failed to say the right things in the right order at the right time. There are other reasons, many or most of them outside your control and beyond the realm of your responsibility. See # 3 above. Read it again. You may have made bad decisions or lived an unhealthy lifestyle, but there is NO REASON to beat yourself up about it. If you’ve made mistakes, I want to assure you that you are part of a very big club and there are things you can do to reverse the direction of your life. Reject all guilt now.
  6. If you are struggling, suffering, poor, or sick, and trying to break out, a lack of progress is not because you failed to say the right things in the right order at the right time. There are things you should do and can do that will make a difference, but chants, recitations, or plastic smiles are not among them. It may have taken awhile to get into the mess you now face or it may have fallen suddenly upon you. The search for a quick solution is very human, but no one can guarantee it. So, don’t expect it.
  7. A positive attitude stands in sharp contrast to positive thinking and positive speaking because it readily identifies things as they really are so that you can creatively focus the intelligence God gave you and experts in the area of challenge you face to find a solution. Optimism is strengthened by successful encounters with the exigencies of life. Successful encounters come because you have responsibly addressed them and found solutions. You always feel better when you do something intelligent and make good decisions.

I know I have stepped on toes, especially those in the family of faith. Doubtless there will be those whose confidence in the miraculous precludes any human response at all and who firmly believe that the words they speak make all the difference. I disagree. Experience and real life is on my side. But I would like to hear from those who have discovered the difference between positive speaking and a positive attitude.

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