Why Thinking Positively Doesn’t Always Work (And What to do Instead)

As a self-help blogger, something I see a lot in this community is the notion that ”positive thinking” can change your life, and that it’s all you need to change your life.

Personally, I believe that positive thinking has a place in this community, and it’s important to take a critical look at your own thought patterns, but it’s not the end-all solution to all of your life problems.

[unpopular opinion] Positive thinking will not solve all of your problems. In fact, thinking that positive thinking is all you need to feel better and become this success machine is quite a dangerous way of thinking. [/unpopular opinion]

But please don’t crucify me just yet. 

In 2011, I was depressed, suffered from an eating disorder, was unable to speak about my emotions and spent most of my days talking to therapists nonetheless. I was not doing well both mentally and physically, and if someone would have told me that ”positive thinking” would change my life, I think I would have wanted to hit them in the face.

That’s not what I needed at that moment. Not at all.

Accepting Negative Feelings

Turns out there’s some science behind the feelings 2011-me had: A look at some research reveals positive thinking isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, some researchers are asking: What if embracing so-called “negative” states like failure, pessimism, insecurity, and uncertainty actually has a positive outcome?

That doesn’t mean you need to dwell on your negative feelings, but you need to accept that it’s okay to feel them –  and that it’s okay if you’re not okay.

How We Think of Happiness

”Today, human beings tend to think of happiness as a natural right. (…) Throughout history, happiness has been equated regularly with the highest human calling, the most perfect human state. Yet it’s only within the past two hundred years that human beings have begun to think of happiness as not just an earthly possibility but also as an earthly entitlement, even an obligation.” – Happiness, A History

The concept if happiness is very interesting to me. Recently, happiness has become something that people conceive as something everyone is entitled to all the time. And in the headlong pursuit of everlasting positivity, we might be shooting ourselves in the feet. Constant positive thinking, some researchers say, means a person can never relax — because that’s the moment a “negative” thought might push its way to the surface. Insisting that “everything works out” offers positive thinkers no back-up plan for when things don’t actually work out. When that happens, it adds to the already existing stress.

The Difference Between Thinking Positively and Being Positive

Instead of thinking in a positive way, I think we need to focus on eliminating the things in our life that make us think negatively as much as possible. At that point you won’t have to try to think positive, because it will be easier to be positive.

The Takeaway

As mentioned above, I think positive thinking is a great tool and we shouldn’t underestimate it – but it’s not what some people make it out to be. Positive thinking is not the solution to all your problems, and I believe that it could even make your situation worse.

Positive thinking is just a small part of the full picture, which includes anticipating problems, planning your goals and the road to achieving those goals and pursuing your dreams.

Photo by Xavier Sotomayor on Unsplash.


10 thoughts on “Why Thinking Positively Doesn’t Always Work (And What to do Instead)

  1. This is a really good point: “…focus on eliminating the things in our life that make us think negatively as much as possible”. By changing the things we do we an get rid of anxiety, stress and other unhelpful emotions and therefore eliminating “negativity”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I work to be a positive person but I do have my moments. Taking an anti-depressant has helped me as of late. Some folks strive to be real but it can be difficult because there unrealistic expectations placed upon many of us. You do the best you can and deal with the negative as it comes and hope you can keep a smile on your face.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think everyone has their moments, it’s only human! I hope the anti-depressant is working out for you Tony. 🙂


  3. I like your comment that in today’s society happiness has become an expected entitlement. We are failures if we are not happy. “This too shall pass” reminds me that nothing is permanent; thoughts and feelings come and go. For me it is best to just observe them and allow the natural progression from negative to positive.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Negative feelings are very much important for progress..in fact as per latest psychological research there should be ideal ratio of 3:1 of positive and negative emotions in order to live a happy life.


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