It’s time to burst the bubble a little. Does Positive Thinking work for everyone?
In my utopian world, it does. Positive Thinking is fact and the way to lead a fulfilling life. Ideas such as positive thinking and the law of attraction are a full-proof guide to solving life’s problems. Moreover, unhappy people that don’t subscribe to these ideas have no excuses. If they took up the same practices they would solve their problems. Everyone starts with a clean slate, the development years mold this slate and finally as a conscious adult we decide where the slate sets. Everyone therefore has the chance to write their path, no matter the culture, country or situation their born into.
It’s a beautiful image, but an unforgiving one. To say that every single person in the world can flourish and lead a happy and rewarding life is dogmatic. Not everyone can drive the vehicle of Positive Thinking down a successful road. Before we explore the limits of Positive Thinking though, we must be clear on the difference between Positive Psychology and Positive Thinking.
Positive Psychology v. Positive Thinking
Positive psychology is a legitimate research field originally started by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1998. Seligman, as the President of the APA (American Psychologist Association), has become the unofficial spokesperson and head researcher for the now global movement based at the Penn Positive Psychology Centre. Between 2000 and 2010 almost 1000 peer-reviewed articles were published in the field.
In contrast, Positive Thinking blindly backs positivity in every situation. The Psychology of Wellbeing Blog highlights the difference very clearly. Positive thinking demands positivity even when the situation doesn’t warrant it, while Positive Psychology studies why optimism is sometimes beneficial and sometimes not.
“Positive thinking is a one-note song that falls flat in certain situations, while positive psychology is about understanding the rich complexity of the positive side of life (The Psychology of Wellbeing Blog: The Difference Between Positive Thinking and Positive Psychology).”
So it seems Positive Psychology is the needle in Positive Thinking’s balloon. Positive Psychology is based on extensive research and recognizes the importance of both sides. Positive Thinking instead likes to spread its wings and send its message freely and without accountability. For example, Positive Psychologists are quick to separate themselves from mainstream books such as, The Law of Attraction (Esther Hicks) and The Secret (Rhonda Byrne).
So if Positive Thinking’s bubble is burst, can we leave Positive Psychology to float along happily on its current path? The APA published article Positive Psychology Advances, with Growing Pains, provides strong arguments for both sides, but is ultimately inconclusive. Seligman defends the use of Positive Psychology because of the decades of research that each program is based on. It’s not fluffy, but based on hard evidence with proven results.
Babara Held’s main disagreement with Positive Psychology is the same as mine addressed at the beginning of this article; it blames the victim. It assumes that despite a persons background or culture, internal wiring or disability, they should be able to follow the steps of Positive Psychology to a fulfilling life. As much as I’d like to be, I’m not quite convinced. That the research of Psychology is becoming less focused on illness and more on the positive side of life is the key point.