Everyone Talks About the Power of Positive Thinking

All too often I read motivational quotes and think, “Yeah. Okay! That’s where my head needs to be at!!”
They’re often like this one by Tena Desae:

“Stay positive and happy. Work hard and don’t give up hope. Be open to criticism and keep learning. Surround yourself with happy, warm and genuine people.”

But how do aspirational statements like this one make you feel? This is how it makes me feel.

“Stay positive and happy.” This is asking the impossible.

How do I simply stay positive and stay happy? It took me ages to even figure out what happy actually felt like. It’s not humanly possible to stay positive and happy. I’ve tried for decades. I’ve failed for decades. It’s also unhealthy to think any one person should first achieve and then HOLD STILL in one emotional state forever. That’s pretty weird.

I suspect many, MANY people develop drug, alcohol, or other addictions, falling for and attempting to achieve some version of this unhealthy ideal. I suspect my escape into Netflix is related to it. The topics of ‘finding happiness’ or even ‘holding onto one idea of happiness’ could be two very long and involved blog series on their own.

“Work hard and don’t give up hope.” Check. Difficult but doable. Worth the effort.

“Be open to criticism…” Sometimes, sure.

But only after I have already considered and assessed the source of the criticism. (Be honest. You’re the same way.)

I’ll take fashion advice from anyone dressed better than I am, which is many, MANY people. But I don’t heed criticism of my values, ideas, opinions, or conclusions from people who I perceive as not having their own integrity sorted out – as in, their own words don’t match their own actions.

After decades of observing people, I can confirm that many, MANY people struggle with their own integrity and should perhaps NOT be doling out opinions and critiques quite so readily.

“…and keep learning.” Check.

This one is as easy (or hard) as making time for learning and planning around it. The quotes that stress me out are the power of positive thinking quotes that get strapped to some corporate directive about job performance and better productivity.

Planet earth has enough employer-on-employee stress.

“Surround yourself with happy, warm and genuine people.” Yes, but nope! Keep reading.

Like you, I feel that my connections in life are good people. I choose the people I’m connected with pretty carefully. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been blind-sided by or ‘befriended’ by unhappy, cold and calculating or devious people in the past. I have been. They can literally mess up your life. And one of those unfortunate connections is more than enough.

Here’s the biggest problem with lovely-sounding positive thinking quotes, like the one I posted above, though…

This is something that hit me in the face in 1991 after I moved to Toyko. I moved there to start my teaching career and to get as far away as possible from my childhood memories.

What I discovered vividly on the other side of the world in my early twenties is that you can surround yourself with whoever you choose — happy people, warm people, genuine people — and you can turn and walk away from whoever you choose in life too, but the person who always comes with you is YOU.

The good news is the only person any of us really has any control over is ourselves, so…back to the power of positive thinking. The questions become: Am I happy? How do I be happy? Am a warm person? How do I be a warm person? Am I genuine? How do I be genuine?

The important questions require self-awareness and years of practicing. Sometimes succeeding. Sometimes failing. The important questions are all about being, about our own being-ness, about who WE are being in our own lives for ourselves and for everyone we encounter.

Many, MANY people are waking up to self-awareness.

Does the power of positivity work?

I believe the way positivity shows up for each of us is directly related to our own self-awareness and ability to choose freely. If we practice being self aware and making conscious choices, we build our power-of-positivity muscle. On a personal and human level, I don’t know of anything more powerful or positive than being self-aware and making conscious choices. It unlocks an entire host of other goodies, but you’ll find those along the way.

We’re all putting our energy out into the world with every thing that we think and say and do, moment by moment and day by day, so hold onto your hats! Thinking positively and making positive choices isn’t a neat and tidy business. We’re one small drop in a rolling sea.

Do our thoughts and choices effect our own outcomes in life…at least?!

Yes, I think they really do, but usually not in the way we expect them to. There’s the rub! You can do one thing wrong in a conversation, or in a task, or in a relationship (and you can do it without even knowing you’re setting off a trigger) and then BAM!, suddenly the rug is pulled out from under you. We can spend a very long time trying to recover from those moments sometimes.

Maybe the journey itself is the best possible destination?

Conversely, you can spend many years giving to others in countless small ways, being generous as a rule, trying hard to please and produce, sometimes asking for little in return, helping quietly, being kind just because, and you might never see or hear or receive the same in return for your efforts.

Do these positive choices you’re making, based in your positive thinking and positive values, cast your life in a certain direction nevertheless?

Yes. I’m certain they do. But again, usually not in the way we expect them to. Or even in the way we hope them to. I’m convinced everyone’s story has a healthy dose of irony in it. (It can’t just be mine!)

If we DO manage to get command of a few of the supposed keys to living a powerfully positive life (things like working hard, not giving up, and lifelong learning) then maybe we can master those other things too?

I don’t know. It seems like the journey is the destination to me. Maybe we never really master any of these things, but we keep trying. We keep moving towards them. We keep moving upwards in that direction, toward a bigger or brighter purpose in a never ending (and sometimes dizzying) journey. Even if we never master any of them, spiralling upwards beats spiralling downwards, doesn’t it?

What do you think about the power of positive thinking?

Which quotes motivate you or get you back on track?