The Truth About Positive Thinking And Why It Might Be Bad For You

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Positive Psychology has gotten a bit of a bad rap. If you walk into your local bookstore and browse the “self-help” section, you’re likely to find hundreds of books about how and why you should think happy thoughts.

There’s been so much written about the subject, that the actual science behind it, the actual reason why and how it can help you has gotten a bit lost.

Positive psychology is about a lot more than just chanting positive mantras to yourself all day, or telling yourself to be happy and expecting it to happen.

I think people instinctively know this, which is why a lot of people today think that positive psychology, and the entire self-help industry is a bit of a joke.

Why Positive Thinking Is Bad For You

Too much of the time, positive psychology has been deluded into simply positive thinking. We are told that if we just think positively everything will be ok, and we’re almost made to feel guilty if we think negative thoughts at all.

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But this is only a recipe for disaster. This causes people to think of positive psychology as a cure for their troubles. So they start saying things like “I wonder if this works?” or “How long will it take to work?” or “I tried it, that stuff doesn’t work.”

This is completely the wrong mentality. This isn’t an anti-depressant you’re taking to see how it makes you feel.

Real positive psychology is about studying how our brains actually operate, seeing why some people’s brains operate better than others, and devising methods for improving our brains and thereby improving our lives.

Positive thinking on the other hand strips out all the evidence and science, all the theories and principles, and presents you with a watered down attempt to help you feel better about your life by using a simple thought management program.

In my opinion this can actually hurt you, because it sells you on an illusion. Once that illusion fades you’re left to conclude that positive psychology is just silliness, and you never take it seriously again.

But positive psychology is anything but silliness, and it’s also not something authors and scientists cooked up. It’s simply the naturally occurring reasons why some people are happy and successful, and some aren’t.

The difference between them is in the mind, and positive psychology seeks to bridge that gap.

The Happiness Advantage

happiness-advantageIn the rest of this post I will attempt to express a couple of the principles found in the book “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Archor.

I highly recommend reading this book for yourself. I know of no other book that better explains the science of happiness and achievement in a way that is applicable to everyday life.

To anyone who has found happiness, meaning and achievement to be frustratingly elusive, this book can be a big help.

Happiness Comes Before Success

The first, and maybe most important principle to understand is that happiness comes before success. This is in direct contradiction to what most of the world believes.

It’s usually the other way around. Get the promotion, or the big house, or the fancy car, perfect spouse…insert achievement here… and then you’ll be happy.

But the reality is, success does not cause happiness… happiness causes success. Over 200 studies on nearly 275,000 people found that happiness leads to more success in nearly every conceivable area of our lives.

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It’s been proven that those who are happier are actually better able to use the full potential of their brains and are more likely to come up with unique solutions to problems.

It’s an interesting idea that to be more productive, we should take a break and do something that makes us happy, rather than keep our nose to the grindstone and work harder.

The most successful, forward thinking companies of our time understand this. It’s why companies like Google and Apple are famous for encouraging an out-of-the-box working atmosphere… a place that’s actually fun to work.

Neuroplasticity

All those benefits of being happy sound great… for happy people. But what does this mean for those people who aren’t so cheerful all the time?

It’s a commonly held belief that people really can’t change. That you may be able to veneer a few positive qualities onto the surface of your personality, but it won’t change who you are down deep, and eventually you’ll go back to the way you really are.

For most of the twentieth century, science backed this theory. Scientists used to believe that by adolescence our brains were fixed and unyielding. They believed that once fully matured, a brain could not change, especially not by any action we could take ourselves.

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The technological miracle of mri’s changed all that. Once brain scans began to become more sophisticated, researchers started to use them to study the brains of people in different occupations and situations.

One study found something that was previously unimaginable. While studying the brains of London taxi cab drivers, scientists found that their brains had significantly larger hippocampi, the brain structure devoted to spacial memory.

This proved beyond a doubt that our brains can change, do change, and are changing all the time based on what we do on a daily basis.

These taxi cab drivers had literally rewired the physical structure of their brains, simply by navigating the confounding streets of London.

This is just one of may studies that prove our brains actually physically change to adjust to the input we feed it. The things we do and focus on the most.

This means the theory that people can’t change is false and irrelevant. Real, lasting happiness can be achieved by training your brain to adapt to a pattern of disciplines that have been proven to increase happiness.

Those disciplines and how to apply them to your life are covered in the book “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Archor, which again I highly recommend reading.

I couldn’t possible do justice to the ideas of an entire book in one blog post, but if the insights in this post were interesting to you, pick up a copy for yourself. You’ll be glad you did. This book can help you be happier and more successful in your life and business.

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🙂 Shawn Smith

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  • Excellent post. The search, the expectation that doing xyz will cause happiness leads people to do all kinds of things for all the wrong reasons. If you are doing anything to be happy you are either doing it backwards or shouldn’t be doing it at all. When you come from happiness you don’t have to go looking for it. The question is: What inspires you? When inspired we seem to be able to have anything and everything and it feels effortless.

    • Hey Michael, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree, finding something that inspires you is important for living a fulfilling life.