The concept of positive thinking gained undue popularity in the last few decades. It does help us much in dealing with certain problems and obstacles that life brings inevitably. But does it have some drawbacks too?
Psychology tells us that we are already programmed for over-optimism. ‘Optimism bias’ is what psychology calls it, according to which we have a natural tendency to think that bad things will happen to us less often than they will happen to other people. Earthquakes and floods and other such disasters won’t occur where we live. The airplane which is carrying us won’t crash. The train on the other track may derail but not ours.
There is actually a part of the brain that sustains this sort of optimism which is a kind of inbuilt defence mechanism. The problem with this defence-shield is that it can make us over-optimistic. It can make us blind to certain potential hazards and threats. It can blunt our caution.
It can also make us blind to our real situation. It can make us believe that we are making progress when we are actually standing still. Positive thinking can be disastrous for a student who may be tempted to overestimate his efforts and hence the results. It can be equally disastrous for anyone, in fact. It can make us dreamers. Positive thinking can delude us.
Positive thinking can make us incapable of learning the necessary lessons from our failures. Let’s say I fail to understand the motives of the new management that takes over the institution where I am just an ordinary staff. I understand the situation only when I am thrown on the road one fine morning. Fine, because I’m a positive thinker. I keep telling myself that whatever happens is for the good because I’m a positive thinker.
Nothing good turns out, however. Things move from the road to the alleys and byways which become increasingly dark and murky. Depression descends. Antidepressant tablets buoy me up. Floating on the waves of the positive feeling given by those drugs, I manage to find some light at the end of the murky byway. My positive thinking returns. Now I look back at the terrible experience and begin to give it a different colouring. The new colours make me feel better. They make me feel more positive about myself and life in general. I become a hero or a victim or whatever suits my need and nature in the hindsight.
This positive refabrication of the past makes me forget the lessons I should have learnt. Positive thinking makes me feel that I have been in control over myself. I need that delusion.
Much positive thinking may indeed be a delusion, a feeling of wellbeing when many things are not quite well. We live in a world which gives a lot of importance to positive thinking. There are pop psychology speakers and writers, cult gurus, art of living maestros, religious leaders and all sorts of people preaching positive thinking. But the world is becoming more and more negative. More vicious and violent. All the positive thinking that is being dished out in numerous forms is not seen in practice in the actual life. That’s because we have created only a feeling of wellbeing and not the real wellbeing itself. We have created the delusion of positivity and not positivity itself.
Positive thinking that does not create positive action is mere delusion.