The tyranny of positive thinking threatens your health and happiness

Everyone heard this: “just be on the bright side!” Or “happiness is a choice, just be happy!”. Endless books "help yourself" or "how to be happy" fill the shelves of bookstores. The book “Ne Sy” by Jen Sincero ( the title of the Russian edition, in the original “You Are a Badass”, approx. Transl. ) Was on the list of the New York Times bestsellers for 32 weeks, and the “Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale ( The Power of Positive Thinking, Reverend Norman Vincent Peale ), published in 1952 and translated into 15 languages, is still popular. The idea that you can be happy if you just want it is deeply integrated into the U.S. Army, school, and jobs, and is designed to improve productivity, mental health, and ability to cope with life's difficulties.

How does positive psychology work?

But when the popularity of this movement began to grow, it began to be used to blame people who are depressed, anxious, or simply periodically experiencing negative emotions. The August and October issues of Motivation and Emotion, the official journal of the Society for the Study of Motivation, contain studies proving that such allegations are real. A study in the August issue by Karin Coifman and her colleagues concluded that when people express negative emotions about their relationships or illnesses, it helps them adjust their behavior and get more satisfactory feedback. Negative emotions, in turn, support overall psychological health.

A study in the October issue by Elizabeth Kneeland and colleagues concluded that people who think that emotions can be controlled and change as they wish more often blame themselves for negative emotions than people who think that they cannot control emotions.

Although these studies are important, they are not the first to argue that positive psychology can be dangerous. For years, psychologists have been studying emotions and how they affect everyday life, success, and self-esteem. These studies have found that while positive psychology can help some people succeed, it can be dangerous for others, leading to feelings of defeat and depression. Despite the fact that recent studies and years of research before them have revealed the negative aspects of positive psychology, the obsession with it continues. Some experts believe that the bombardment of people with common phrases and books “help yourself”, which implies that people themselves are to blame for being unhappy, may be a factor in the growth of depression in the United States.

The positive psychology approach to mental health management grew out of a humanistic psychology developed by Abraham Maslow and Karl Rogers in the 1950s. The term “positive psychology” first appeared in the book “Motivation and Personality,” by Abraham Maslow, 1954, as the title of the chapter, which states: “The science of psychology was much more successful on the negative than on the positive side, it revealed to us many human flaws , diseases, sins, but says little about human potential, human dignity, achievable expectations, its psychological height. It looks as though psychology deliberately limits itself to only half of legitimate judgments, and this is the dark, evil half. ”

The postulates of positive psychology were formulated by the positive psychology movement, founded by former president of the American Psychological Association, Martin Seligman in 1998. The Washington Post newspaper wrote about positive psychology in 2002, it was covered by Time magazine, there were publications in Britain's Sunday Times Magazine in 2005, in The New York Times Magazine in 2007, and in 2006 the BBC series of six episodes was released. Seligman's book Strength and Dignity of Character has been cited more than 4,000 times since publication. Since 2009, the Penn Sustainability program, implemented as part of the US Army Comprehensive Program for the Physical Training of Military Personnel and Members of Their Families, has been widely used to assist soldiers and their family members in developing coping skills and appropriate behaviors, building capacities, and implementing educational activities and preventative measures that increase self-awareness, inhibit dangerous behavior and support healthy ways to achieve positive ultatov.

Under the Penn program, more than 30,000 soldiers were trained in the training of other soldiers in life endurance. Seligman opened the Center for Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, with a training center for a life-sustaining education program for officers found to be unfit for service. In 2012, psychologist Neil Frood co-founded the company “Happiness Consultancy”, which helps to increase the level of happiness, satisfaction and resistance to stress of the labor resources of companies. During the year, each employee of the companies working with Frude passed a four-week course in positive psychology. Frood told Fast Company Inc.'s Co.Create that many Fortune 500 companies have implemented positive psychology in recent years. Adapting positive psychology for business management and the armed forces helps this approach spread into popular culture. But as popularity grows, positive psychology has taken a new height - a more simplified message of “positive thoughts”.

Arnika Müll, “Happy, happy, joy, joy.” This is what a forced positive looks like.

Julia Norem, a professor of psychology at Wellesley College, says that poorly executed studies published on behalf of positive psychology began to appear after Seligman coined the term. Most of them argued that optimism and positive thinking lead to a happy life. But, according to social psychologist Carol Tavris, most of these studies are refuted by more thorough studies, and in recent years critics have begun to worry that this simplified form of positive psychology can do more harm than good. It's "the tyranny of a positive attitude," says Barbara Held, a professor of psychology at Bowden College.

“By the tyranny of a positive attitude (TVET), I mean that our culture does not tolerate those who cannot smile and see the bright side in everything.” Even in the event of bereavement, Held says, people must overcome sadness within a few weeks, if not faster. “TVET consists of two parts: first you feel bad because of the pain that has appeared on your life path, and then you are made to feel guilty and inferior if you cannot gratefully accept what you have, move forward and focus on positive. This is a double blow, and the second part does the most serious damage. ”Research confirms this. In 2012, a study conducted at the University of Queensland and published in the journal Emotion showed that when people think that others expect them to have no negative emotions, they end up experiencing more negative emotions. A 2009 study published in the journal Psychological Science found that forcing people to use positive expressions such as “I am a loved one” can make some people feel more insecure.

In addition, Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University, and her colleagues found that visualizing a successful result under certain conditions can reduce the likelihood of its achievement. The researchers also found that people in a bad mood give better and more convincing arguments than people in a good mood, and that a bad mood can improve memory.

Norem works to understand why some people do not give good results with positive psychology, but give better results with negative psychology, she calls this attitude “protective pessimism”. Her research shows that by thinking about everything that can go wrong and foreseeing negative possibilities, “protective pessimists” get rid of feelings of anxiety and are often able to avoid pitfalls.

Some studies show that imposing optimism or a positive mood on an alarming, defensive pessimist can damage the execution of various tasks, from math to darts. “Most of the positive psychological interventions are aimed at improving mood,” says Norem. “If you try to cheer up people who are anxious, they may temporarily feel better, but this leads to poor results, because anxiety does not go anywhere. It remains, and something needs to be done with it. ” And for some people, protective pessimism is a way to deal with anxiety.

Norem believes that protective pessimists make up 25 to 30 percent of the American population, but not only protective pessimists suffer from the popular interpretation of positive psychology. “Slogans such as“ all is well! ”Do not allow people to talk about how they really feel,” says Norem. “If they have a bad day, it would be very useful to talk about it with their friends, but the idea of“ we have to be positive all the time ”has saturated society and no one will listen to them.”

Another potential danger of positive thinking is denial. Barbara Ehrenreich, an award-winning journalist and author of The Bright Side: How Positive Thinking Undermines America, partly blames the 2008 economic crisis for refusing people to consider negative consequences such as a default on a mortgage.

Psychiatrist Dr. Mark Banschick argues that positive thinking is one way to avoid action. People can tell themselves that everything is fine, even if it’s not, just not to deal with problems in their lives.

In an article published by the American Psychological Association, Beth Azar writes that there is a widespread misconception about the power of positive, a misconception that people can defeat illness by the power of optimism.

The best way to deal with TVET, Held and Norem say, is to admit that there are no simple answers to the complex problems that people face, and especially this answer is not an all-encompassing and constant pursuit of happiness.

Most importantly, people should understand that there is nothing wrong with being in a bad mood when life becomes dark. “It’s normal not to be positive all the time, and it’s unrealistic to believe that you can be happy every moment of your life,” says Norem. “This is not a weakness of character, it is a full emotional life.”


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