There aren’t many downsides to seeing the positive side of life—but experts caution against falling into a few traps.
Posted in , Oct 4, 2017
Seeing the positive side of life is a daily goal for me—some days it’s more of an effort than others, but it always requires that I intentionally focus my thoughts, words and actions in a positive direction. Research tells us that this is effort well-spent, as study after study shows a connection between positive thinking and emotional resilience, physical health and other benefits.
It turns out, though, that overly positive thinking can turn into too much of a good thing. Psychotherapist Julia Breuer told Reader’s Digest that when people value positivity over everything else—including honesty—all that optimism can backfire. For example:
In 2001, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I wasn’t a good candidate for chemo. I took tamoxifen instead and gave my trouble to God—just as Dr. Peale suggested in his book, "Thought Conditioners". Since then I’ve remained cancer free. -Guideposts Magazine reader
1. If you explain away physical symptoms because you want to see your or your partner’s body as healthy, you might miss medical red flags.
2. If you minimize problems at work, in friendships or in marriage in an attempt to see those relationships in a positive light, you could miss opportunities to directly address—and resolve—issues.
3. If you put excessive pressure on yourself to be positive all the time, you could begin to judge your own thoughts in black-and-white terms, even when they are about legitimately difficult or upsetting situations.
4. If you are perky at any cost, your friends and family members might feel you are, at worst, insincere, and at best, less than supportive when a problem comes up that requires acknowledgement of negative realities.
These drawbacks are significant, but none makes a compelling case for abandoning the goal of thinking positively altogether. For me, the warnings are actually important reminders that positive thinking is only valuable, healthy and empowering when it is authentic. Breuer’s cautions are helpful in the permission they offer for positive-minded people to experience the full range of human emotions—including sadness, frustration, and anger—in healthy and appropriate ways.
As Breuer put it, “Be mindful that more of life's negative situations will occur that are unexpected and unfair, but how you choose to plan, react and manage them is the key to what many call living a full and happy life.”
In other words, being honest about life’s realities—and working through challenges with authenticity and purpose—is a worthwhile endeavor. Of that, I am absolutely positive.