Back in the early 1980s, when I was a single teacher living in Cotulla, Texas by myself because I was teaching there, I used to visit my parents house every weekend. They lived in Taylor, Texas, more than 250 miles away. And on the long, lonely drive on Sunday evening, after the football games were over, I listened to Norman Vincent Peale on the radio preaching his philosophy of positive thinking.
“Be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind. Talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet. Make all your friends feel there is something special in them. Look at the sunny side of everything. Think only the best, be as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own. Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future. Give everyone a smile. Spend so much time improving yourself that you have no time left to criticize others. Be too big for worry and too noble for anger.” ~ Norman Vincent Peale
There it is, naked before God, a good example of Bunny Foo-Foo Philosophy.
I am not saying it doesn’t have value. In it’s way, the unqualified optimism of cock-eyed optimists calms the fears of victims in crisis and gives hope to the hopeless. But it is not the magic bullet for killing monsters that Reverend Peale thought it was.
To be fair, President Ronald Reagan, an advocate of Peale’s philosophy, was good for this country in that he made us look at the sunshine available instead of the dark pollution of the soul that had been boiling in the American public’s cauldron since the Kennedy assassination and the Watergate Scandal. His Grampa Goofy-Grin persona gave Ronny Ray-Gun the ability to make people believe problems could be solved by eating a jellybean and aiming Star Wars space lasers at Russian ICBMs. He reassured us with magic-bullet solutions and actually positioned himself to be declared the winner of the Cold War. And people believed he made things better to the point that things actually got better… at least in a visible sense.
There are definite benefits to counting your blessings and cherishing the good things about life.
But you cannot carry that to extremes. Republican billionaires whose wealth is built on the fossil-fuel industry, want to believe that climate change problems are only a hoax by the scientific community committed for nebulous reasons of funding when their own fossil-fuel-funded scientists were among the first to tell them that the problem was real and life-threatening. Positive thinking makes you feel better about problems, and may help keep you on the problem-solving path. But being a pessimist makes you prepare for the worst, and when the worst happens, it gives you the actual tools to solve it.
Here is the truth about positive thinking.
The thing that is most true about it is that you need to believe that when things are at their worst, you can dig down into the deep places within you and find the solutions and the powers you need to win the moment. If you don’t believe that, you are truly lost.
Beyond that, choose to be happy. You don’t make things better by adding blame, bullets, and bitching to a bad situation. Laugh in the face of what ails you. It can, in fact, work like the best medicine.