As the famous American industrialist and businessman, Henry Ford, once said, “Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right” (qtd. in BrainyQuote), but disputes have recently popped up concerning the truth of that statement. The vast majority of Americans would agree that positive thinking is a person’s key to success and happiness. However, some researchers are now saying that positive thinking can actually have an adverse effect on a person’s life. It has long been believed that optimism is good for a person, but new research is beginning to bring to light the negative aspects of positive thinking. Optimism has always been viewed as a positive trait, but people are now seeing that at times it can be just as harmful as helpful.
Positive thinking is often used by therapists in helping their patients overcome anxiety, specifically through the use of positive affirmations (i.e. “I am strong,” “I can,” “It is possible,” etc.). The idea is that when a person is constantly thinking negative thoughts (i.e. “I can’t do it,” “It’s hopeless,” “I’m worthless,” etc.) those thoughts sink into their subconscious and their brain begins recognizing them as truths and thus causes the anxiety; so when a person replaces those negative thoughts with positive ones, whether or not they necessarily believe them, the positive thoughts will become engrained in their subconscious and seen as truths and can help in easing their anxiety back down to a more normal level.
However, there are some people who take positive thinking and turn it into an obsession. They won’t just settle for doing their best to think positively and they up an unhealthy hatred of negative thoughts. They can become so focused on always being positive that when a negative thought does pop into their mind it can cause just as much anxiety in a person as someone left untreated, if not worse.
Another downfall of positive thinking is that it can sometimes blind people to reality. As Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps puts it, “their look-only-at-the-positive attitude sometimes sets them up for painful failure; especially when they meet up with very real limits to their abilities, resources, or opportunities.” People may feel badly about themselves whenever they fail to attain a goal they’ve set for themselves, but when a person refuses to acknowledge the negative side of things it can lead them into a depression when they do end up forced to confront reality. Becker-Phelps suggests that instead of being so focused on being positive and looking on the bright side and what she refers to as “view[ing] the world through rose-colored glasses,” people should be focusing on thinking positively about themselves—and not just what they’ve accomplished or are able to accomplish, but on valuing and appreciating themselves purely for being themselves. She explains the benefits of this type of positivity by saying:
What naturally follows from such self-love is an inherent drive to grow and...