Screw Positive Thinking


A person I know went to a therapist about 10 years ago to work on some issues. During one session, this person discussed their bad luck with dating. This person admittedly was a bit dramatic about the situation, but they lamented how impossible it seemed to find a good partner in New York City. The therapist, looking them dead in the eye, said, "You have to think positively and imagine getting your ideal partner." 

"What a bunch of horseshit," I said to them and laughed. I didn't mean to be so harsh, and it caused this person to be taken aback. After all about 10 years ago, and the book "The Secret" was widely popular. "The Secret," if you've never heard of it, suggests that thinking and visualizing about things you want will make them appear in your life. That's the secret. So many people bought and accepted this philosophy as somehow true, the absurdity somehow lost on them. Just because I think about being rich or dating Beyonce with all my energy, doesn't mean it will make it so. 

"The Secret," of course, isn't the only example of positive thinking in our culture. Famously Norman Vincent Peale wrote "The Power of Positive Thinking" in 1952, effectively creating a sanitized Christianity without all the sadness and crucifixion crap. If featured such aphorisms and affirmations such  as “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." 

I don't mean to be too critical as there are certainly uses for positive affirmation work. But so much of the cult of positive thinking borders on brainwashing. Brainwashing for what? 

It's not a fully thought out argument, but my instincts tell me it's connected to a capitalist logic. Or rather the people I have known who most connected to books like "The Secret" or a prosperity gospel, found much of their self-worth by their income and status in the corporate world. It's a vicious echo chamber, one where their need for profit and status is reinforced by business books and philosophies from the corporations they work at to be positive and engaged so they can succeed in business. 

It's a pretty superficial way to live, and yes it's horseshit. It says your worth is only measured by your productivity, income, and output. The truth is there is a lot of lying and self-deception in the positive thinking mantra. The truth is when climate change exists when our government locks up and separates brown children when fascist ideologies are on the rise in all social democracies, how much is there to be that positive about?