Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Tyranny of Positive Thinking

My sister recently sent me a link to Morgan Mitchell's The 'Tyranny' Of Positive Thinking Can Threaten Your Health And Happiness, courtesy of Newsweek.com.

In it, Mitchell abstracts recent research suggesting that human denial has no effect on external phenomena, and that insisting it does might be an ineffective strategy for meeting challenges.

I know. You could have knocked me over with a feather. And it only took 70 years to confirm this basic principle of physics.

In fact, according to Actual Researchers, who were probably wearing lab coats at the time, not only are things that are outside of you, uh… outside of you, but systematic denial of that fact can harm your mind. And on an authentically positive note, contemplating dependent co-arising can improve outcomes.

Says Mitchell:
"The study [...] concluded that when people acknowledge and address negative emotions [...] it helps them adjust their behaviour and have more appropriate responses."
Gosh. Do you think that would work in offices, too? Or countries?

The scientists in question imply that forcing people to pretend everything is heavenly is an act of violence. Mitchell's article also sidles up to what that means on a societal level, but sadly doesn't mention that power routinely wields Positive Mental Attitude as a straight-up weapon, to beat underlings into silence or even deprive them of their livelihoods.

But its central thesis – that accepting unpleasant mind-states and ferreting out their external stimuli is healthy, and may lead to greater satisfaction for everyone concerned – is, to borrow Brad Warner's catchphrase, hardcore Zen.

Zen also teaches that suffering arises in the mind, but our prescription for it is diametrically opposed to PMA's: we say, "I am miserable." Then we explore every aspect of that misery. In fact, we analyse that mofo – the causes of the effects of the causes of the effects – till our mind is sorry it ever brought it up.

This is called "looking deeply".

Years ago I read another study that further implied individual human beings have personalities. (I know! You could have knocked me over again, with another feather!) It said cheery people tend to be cheery. If something makes them un-cheery, they tend to recover quickly and return to being cheery. By the same token, dour people are dour, and no matter how much good fortune they enjoy, they eventually return to their dour baseline.

As a student of human evolution I'm sensing a survival value in there, but I can't put my finger on it.

No wait; that was negative. Now I really can't put my finger on it, because I said I couldn't put my finger on it! Saying something makes it true!

Oh, no! By saying it to others I've prevented them from putting their fingers on it, too!

Oh, God! Now I've said nobody has their finger on it! I've made it impossible for my entire species to put its finger on it!

I broke the Internet! I'm worthless! WORTHLESS!!!

STOP ME BEFORE I UNFINGER AGAIN!!!

Yeah.

Let's keep our butts on the ground, brothers and sisters. That's the only place problems are solved.


(Photo of especially heavy feather courtesy of Pixabay.com and a generous photographer.)
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