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Overrated Optimism: The Peril of Positive Thinking

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posted on Oct, 11 2009 @ 02:31 PM

If you're craving a quick hit of optimism, reading a news magazine is probably not the best way to go about finding it. As the life coaches and motivational speakers have been trying to tell us for more than a decade now, a healthy, positive mental outlook requires strict abstinence from current events in all forms. Instead, you should patronize sites like, where the top international stories of the week include "Jobless Man Finds Buried Treasure" and "Adorable 'Teacup Pigs' Are Latest Hit with Brits."

Or of course you can train yourself to be optimistic through sheer mental discipline. Ever since psychologist Martin Seligman crafted the phrase "learned optimism" in 1991 and started offering optimism training, there's been a thriving industry in the kind of thought reform that supposedly overcomes negative thinking. You can buy any number of books and DVDs with titles like Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude, in which you will learn mental exercises to reprogram your outlook from gray to the rosiest pink: "affirmations," for example, in which you repeat upbeat predictions over and over to yourself; "visualizations" in which you post on your bathroom mirror pictures of that car or boat you want; "disputations" to refute any stray negative thoughts that may come along. If money is no object, you can undergo a three-month "happiness makeover" from a life coach or invest $3,575 for three days of "optimism training" on a Good Mood Safari on the coast of New South Wales.

But the question, before you whip out your credit card or start reciting your personal list of affirmations, is: What makes you think unsullied optimism is such a good idea? Americans have long prided themselves on being "positive" and optimistic — traits that reached a manic zenith in the early years of this millennium. Iraq would be a cakewalk! The Dow would reach 36,000! Housing prices could never decline! Optimism was not only patriotic, it was a Christian virtue, or so we learned from the proliferating preachers of the "prosperity gospel," whose God wants to "prosper" you. In 2006, the runaway bestseller The Secret promised that you could have anything you wanted, anything at all, simply by using your mental powers to "attract" it. The poor listened to upbeat preachers like Joel Osteen and took out subprime mortgages. The rich paid for seminars led by motivational speakers like Tony Robbins and repackaged those mortgages into securities sold around the world.

Optimism wasn't just a psycho-spiritual lifestyle option; by the mid-'00s it had become increasingly mandatory. Positive psychologists, inspired by a totally over-optimistic reading of the data, proclaimed that optimism lengthens the life span, ameliorates aging and cures cancer. In the last few years, some breast cancer support groups have expelled members whose tumors metastasized, lest they bring the other members down. In the workplace, employers culled "negative" people, like those in the finance industry who had the temerity to suggest that their company's subprime exposure might be too high. No one dared be the bearer of bad news. The purpose of work, at least in white-collar settings, was to flatter and reassure the boss, who had in turn probably read enough of the business self-help literature to believe that his job was to motivate others with his own relentless and radiant optimism.
(Read "A Primer for Pessimists.")

Two years into the Great Recession, it's time to face the truth: Optimism feels good, really good, but it turns out to be the methamphetamine of run-amok American capitalism. Meth induces a "Superman Syndrome." Optimism fed into what Steve Eisman, a banking analyst who foresaw the crash, calls "hedge-fund disease," characterized by "megalomania, plus narcissism, plus solipsism" and the belief that "to think something is to make it happen." The meth-head loses his teeth and his mind; the madcap optimists of Wall Street lost something like $10 trillion worth of pension funds, life savings and retirement accounts.
(See five reasons for economic optimism.)

Fortunately, the alternative to optimism is not pessimism, which can be equally delusional. What we need here is some realism, or the simple admission that, to paraphrase a bumper sticker, "stuff happens," including sometimes very, very bad stuff. We don't have to dwell incessantly on the worst case scenarios — the metastasis, the market crash or global pandemic — but we do need to acknowledge that they could happen, and prepare in the best way we can. Some will call this "negative thinking," but the technical term is sobriety.

Besides, the constant effort of maintaining optimism in the face of considerable counterevidence is just too damn much work. Optimism training, affirmations and related forms of self-hypnosis are a burden that we can finally, in good conscience, set down. They won't make you richer or healthier, and, as we should have learned by now, they can easily put you in harm's way. The threats that we face, individually and collectively, won't be solved by wishful thinking, but by a clear-eyed commitment to taking action in the world.


Well this is very interesting article I just stumbled upon. Altought the article somewhat bashes positive thinking and creative visualization, I have to agree. It comes down to the fact that we may think everything is hunky dory and hope for the best, but without action, things will continue to decline.

What do you all think ATS?


posted on Oct, 11 2009 @ 03:03 PM
I guess it would be right and wrong. I mean take a look at the cold war, we never got bombed and there wasn't WWIII. Y2K didn't kill us all. But people will say "well things are different now." And maybe they are, but isn't that what people thought back then?

Nuclear war was a scary new thing and communist's were evil, but fast forward and its terrorists etc. There was a great depression, fast forward to the new banking collapse etc. We got through that, whats stopping us now? NWO, and things of that nature?

I'm not saying I'm some sort of optimist, actually I kind of fear the future based on where the world seems to be going these days. But I never even thought about Y2K because I was only 11 years old, and it probably saved me from un-necessary stress. Maybe thats how things will turn out, 2012 will come and go, Obama gets voted out
and the world keeps turning. Or we all die and the end is near.

The fact is, we can't tell the future, even if the future is certain. Sorry to say, but if the most powerful people in the world want to gang up on the rest of the world, theres nothing much we can do about it. Things aren't great, but they could be a hell of a lot worse.

Edit: I just read that part about realism. Ok, so back in 1999, was is realistic to prepare for some sort of disaster, sure. Was it completely un-necessary, kind of. Also, this could just be summarized as "always be prepared... and don't freak out"

[edit on 11-10-2009 by afterschoolfun]

[edit on 11-10-2009 by afterschoolfun]

posted on Oct, 11 2009 @ 03:28 PM
As someone who utilized the most POWERFUL positive thinking for something like from age 13 to 37, I can say this with absolute honesty:

It's Bull*screams out the last part LOUD*.

Holy crap. I was GOING to work the job of my dreams, come hell or high water. When the prayer didn't work, I ground on, determined to do it on my own, because I KNEW I could. I was going to get married. Oh, yes. If I had to bend the laws of space and time, I was gonna get married.

Guess what:

I'm on disability, NEVER got to the dream job, and Not a single woman wants me. YEARS of thinking so positive, I almost made my friends nuts. Do I have talent? Oh, yes. I have talent leaking out of my ears. What has it gotten me? Parlor tricks for friends.

Like I said, it's bullship. A whole leaky boatload.

posted on Oct, 11 2009 @ 03:30 PM
Optimism is just as faulty of a thought-process as pessimism. Rather than clouding perception with irrational feelings, it's best to just see things as they are.

Optimism can be some sort of blind faith, if taken as an absolute!

Blind faith in authority and humanity may be the death of us all...

posted on Oct, 11 2009 @ 03:39 PM
What unityemissions said sums it up really.

There are benefits to being in an optimistic frame of mind but not if that breeds complacency. Personally, I find that it takes just as much effort to maintain a 'happy-persona' as it does to maintain an 'unhappy' one but that is how I cope with my own psyche and lapses into depression, that does not mean that I am blind to the suffering and devastation that is occuring in other corners of the world, to people who don't even have the luxury of being depressed. Optimism can help us see the possibility of a better future, only hard work and determination will create it though.

posted on Oct, 11 2009 @ 03:42 PM
reply to post by shamhat

Like most things, too much of anything is not good for you.

It's about balancing these emotions and perspectives with the reality of what is going on around you.

Everyone, great replies and I agree with what has been said so far.


posted on Oct, 11 2009 @ 04:50 PM
Just KNOWING what goes on in the world, I mean what TRULY goes on in the world and the REALITIES of how the world ACTUALLY works is enough to turn anyone into a pessimist. I don't think any overly optimistic person really understands the world in which they live. Many people live in a bubble and can't see past the end of their nose.

for example.............. do people REALLY REALIZE what a nuclear weapon is capable of and just how destructive they are? There are thousands of them in the world. It's surreal the world we live in.

another example.......I had NO CLUE up until a few years ago (I'm 30) what the Federal Reserve was and really how banking worked. How can any human know that type of information and not feel like we are all enslaved to some degree, no different than medieval serfs. I think for someone like me I think about how the world is and how it COULD BE! That's what's so depressing. Overly optimistic people just accept everything good, throwing out the bad and make their peace in my opinion. Im kind of a perfectionist so maybe pessimists are more perfectionist in nature.

[edit on 11-10-2009 by Zosynspiracy]

posted on Oct, 11 2009 @ 05:16 PM
The idea of 'positive thinking' has been misused and abused to fuel the 'guru' careers of some of the richest people in the world. But most of them are liars. Not because they necessarily intentionally engage in subterfuge, although all advertising is at least subtly untruthful, but simply because they didn't get where they are simply by thinking positively.

Thinking you'll always get what you want if you only dream/believe/pray enough or believing that nothing is worth trying for because you or the system is a failure and inevitable are just side effects of good old fashioned narcissism.

I find the truth in my life is that there's no reason to believe I'll always get what I think I want/deserve and no reason to believe the worst is inevitable. Simply put, the real value in positive thinking is making the best of the situation I am in. Very simple.

posted on Oct, 12 2009 @ 02:24 PM
reply to post by TravelerintheDark

Star for you my friend. Very good answer and I agree with you completely.

Positive thinking is a situation based sort of thing. Although I have seen it work wonders in special situations such as cancer patients among others, if it's abused it will usually lead you down a road of dissapointment.

Prepare for the worse and hope for the best is my moto.


posted on Oct, 12 2009 @ 02:35 PM
I do not care for positive thinking, and i think irony rules over it.

My life was wrecked by people monitoring me, for this sort of thing. But i have always been a negative person, and thats the way i am till i die. People have sh1t all over my life, without a care of destroying another human. Positive thinking would not have stopped them lol. I needed real thinking, and thats what got me though this crazy life people have done to me.

For me up yours to positive thinking, i am a pessimist, and i am sick of people seeing this rubbish positive thinking. Irony rules over this type of thinking, and its why society cannot do this sort of thing.

So i go against this rubbish positive thinking, i will be pessimisticv, as society is trash and there is no point in being positive, when people are out to wreck anything in your life like mine.

posted on Oct, 12 2009 @ 04:54 PM
I try to remain optimistic. Many would call that positive thinking. Sure I see all the death and despair in the world, but I can still be optimistic that times will get better, the world can change, and that anything is possible.

posted on Oct, 12 2009 @ 06:08 PM
I agree with being as impartial as impossible, trying to see things for what they "are."

But when it comes to actively playing my part in the world, you bet I'm going to be optimistic. If embracing the world optimistically is bad, then I can't imagine what embracing it pessimistically must be. But above all else we should remain impartial and coldly analytical, detached. But with love in our hearts.

posted on Oct, 12 2009 @ 06:11 PM
reply to post by bsbray11

I was hoping to hear from you in this thread. I agree, we should assess situations based on what they are, but hold true to our human sides and attempt to deliver a bit of positivity in everything that we do.

Thanksf or the reply


posted on Oct, 12 2009 @ 07:05 PM
reply to post by DaMod

Yeah but like another poster said that's the IRONY! Do you HONESTLY feel the world is a better, safer, healthier place than it was 200 years ago? 1000 years ago? HELL NO! That's what I'm talking about. Sure we have washing machines, cell phones, and cars and can fly around the world in an airplane. But are you telling me you're happier and more free than the amazonian Indians who do whatever the hell they want even in this day and age? I mean think about your life, really think about it. When was the last time you REALLY felt ALIVE? When was the last time you did something truly brave and courageous like a young Indian warrior taking part in a buffalo hunt or being chased by a bear or something like that. Can you imagine what it must have been like for Lewis and Clark to explore the lower 48s?????? What a time it was back then. I think 21st century life is overrated despite all the creature comforts we have. We are more enslaved than ever, it just appears we are not due to our materialism.

posted on Oct, 13 2009 @ 09:50 AM

Originally posted by wylekat
As someone who utilized the most POWERFUL positive thinking for something like from age 13 to 37, I can say this with absolute honesty:

What do you mean by "the most POWERFUL"?
If you don't mind, I am really interested and would like to hear more about your experience?

posted on Oct, 13 2009 @ 01:04 PM
reply to post by Zosynspiracy

Which world are you talking about?

I am happy. I'm a very happy person and very happy with my life. You asked me if I ever do anything brave and the answer is yes. I go on little adventures all the time. That's the glory of living in the mountains. I've climbed mountains and observed the wild life. I've tempted fate in the rapids. I've had a couple run ins with bears and wolves. See I have the option to escape from society any time I feel like it. That makes all the difference in the world!

The world is not a completely bad place. Sure it is dangerous, but saying to not have a good outlook, is wrong and absolutely absurd! What is the point of even living if you can't even muster a positive attitude? Optimism is not bad as long as you don't misunderstand the world in the process.

[edit on 13-10-2009 by DaMod]

[edit on 13-10-2009 by DaMod]

posted on Oct, 13 2009 @ 01:12 PM
No one has mentioned the most crucial part of this equation yet...

Positive thinking is nothing without it.

posted on Oct, 13 2009 @ 01:12 PM
It simply comes down to needing both negative & positive for either to exist.

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