Are the Feelings Police controlling your mind? You know who they are; whenever you start to feel blue, they show up with their heavy belts and authoritarian attitudes and shout, “Hey, you! Turn that frown upside-down!”
It’s a relentless fact of life in these United States of Happiness: Must. Be. Happy. All the time. Most Americans get to take three whole days off work if an immediate family member dies, but that’s it. Then you need to figure out how to be happy again as soon as possible.
I don’t want to talk about the whole pursuit of happiness; I’ll leave that to Penelope Trunk, Dr. Andrew Weil and others. I want to talk about the dangers of positive thinking. This one’s for you, Barbara Ehrenreich.
Positive thinking is like alcohol or marijuana or other feel-good drugs. It’s an attempt to avoid pain. Why do some people drink or smoke pot every day? Because it feels better than not doing it. Is it good for them in the long run? Indications are, not so much.
Drugs provide a temporary relief from the reality of one’s own pain. So does positive thinking.
Drugs separate a person not just from his pain, but from other aspects his life as well. So does positive thinking. It’s not like you can choose to turn off your pain but leave your zest for life, interest and motivation intact. It’s all or nothing when it comes to emotions, folks. Feel all feelings, both pleasant and painful, or feel none of them.
Like substances that aren’t good for you over time, positive thinking gives you a temporary high even while it chips away at your capacity for real joy.
If it’s bad for us, why do we embrace positive thinking, apart from obedience to our national happiness ethic? Because it feels good. Temporarily. Just like drugs.
But guess what? The pain you’re ignoring doesn’t vacate when you force yourself to look on the bright side, any more than it does when you drink. It’s always just a temporary reprieve. The pain waits for you patiently. It’s there when the liquor, or the cocaine, or the positive thinking wears off.
What’s the solution? “Just say no” to positive thinking. Doesn’t mean you have to be a Debbie or Donny Downer. Just keep it real. Sometimes it rains, sometimes the sun is out. It’s okay to notice when the weather changes.