By Ismail M Taher…
Since mental health, wellness, inner-peace and other similar concepts finally started to get more traction and popularity a few years back, there was a one specific concept that gained the most popularity. It is a concept that has existed for so long, but only made popular and widespread lately by public speakers, motivational coaches, etc. It’s the concept of “Positive thinking”.
Sure, instinctively, this concept looks nice, and whenever you picture ‘Positive thinking’, many great and joyful things start coming into your head. People all across the globe have been trying so hard to change their mindset, eliminate their negative-thinking and rewire their brains for positive thinking; that will supposedly bring them an everlasting happiness and peace.
The problem is, many people actually fail when they try to adopt positive thinking, and many are only successful for some time, before eventually falling back into their old tracks. This problem isn’t a problem with the act of positive-thinking by itself, but it lies in the way people try to apply this concept.
Before I get into a little bit more detail, I’d like to present you a powerful statement by the Indian spiritual guru Osho, who, when asked about his opinion on positive thinking, described it as ‘Bullshit philosophy’.
I’ll quote his words here and then I’ll explain and comment on them:
“The philosophy of positive thinking means being untruthful; it means being dishonest. It means seeing a certain thing and yet denying what you have seen; it means deceiving yourself and others.
… Dale Carnegie started this whole school of positive philosophy, positive thinking: Don’t see the negative part, don’t see the darker side.
But by your not seeing it, do you think it disappears? You are just befooling yourself. You cannot change reality. The night will still be there; you can think that it is daytime for twenty-four hours, but by your thinking it, it is not going to be light twenty-four hours a day.
The negative is as much part of life as the positive. They balance each other.
You ask me: Am I against positive philosophy? Yes, because I am also against negative philosophy.
I have to be against both because both choose only half the fact, and both try to ignore the other half.
And remember: a half-truth is far more dangerous than a whole lie, because the whole lie will be discovered by you sooner or later. How long can it remain undiscovered by you? A lie, of course, is a lie; it is just a palace made of playing cards – a little breeze and the whole palace disappears.
But the half-truth is dangerous. You may never discover it, you may continue to think it is the whole truth. So the real problem is not the whole lie, the real problem is the half-truth pretending to be the whole truth; and that is what these people are doing.”
Initially, you might probably wonder: “How on earth can anyone be opposed to positivity and positive-thinking? Such a person is definitely a pessimist or a negative person”. However, the truth is very different.
In Osho’s words, he is not actually opposed to positive-thinking per se, but he’s opposed to what he calls ‘Half-truth’, which is basically ignoring the negatives and pretending they don’t even exist.
To elaborate, I’ll tell you a brief story that happened with me personally. About a year ago, and after years and years of depression and negativity, I somehow decided to begin thinking positively and only positively. I had decided that I’ll completely remove any sort of negative thoughts or beliefs from my brain whilst only focusing on the positive and bright side.
I started doing that every single day, and the results were impressive. I started feeling happier, more self-confident, in charge of my life and destiny, and also started feeling extremely motivated to do all sort of different things.
I started working hard, studying and getting straight A’s at college, replacing hours of music in my headphones with hours of business podcasts, and swapping the long social media scrolls with value-packed books and informative articles.
On the surface, and to any sane human being, the improvements were extremely evident and no one could deny them. I was happier, brighter, more cheerful, more hard-working, and it seemed like my life was finally getting onto the right track, until something happened…
To be honest, it didn’t happen out of a sudden, but it was more of a gradual build-up. After a few months of extreme positivity and confidence, I started feeling that I’m slipping back down. I was suddenly more irritable, more self-conscious, and more stressed than I had ever been; and eventually, I started falling back into an even worse episode of depression.
You’re probably wondering; how did I go from extreme happiness, motivation and confidence into depression, anxiety, stress and low-confidence levels? After all, I seemed to be doing pretty well and even I was convinced that my dark days were only behind me.
Then I discovered something that was sort of a wake up call to me, it was life alerting me that I was doing something wrong, and suddenly the truth started to become crystal clear before my eyes.
The truth is, while I was doing a good job at building my self-confidence, getting motivated and feeling all-around happier and more at peace, I was secretly and unknowingly doing something extremely destructive at the exact same time.
Because as I started trying to think only positively, and distance myself the furthest I could from any sort of negativity, I was actually ignoring all the negative aspects or problems that existed in my life. In other words, I was pretending that all my worries, problems, difficulties, stresses and obstacles did not even exist.
Initially, many people might think it’s actually a good thing to ignore all the negatives around you and focus only on the brighter side, or the full half of the cup. But the truth is, ignoring your problems and pretending they don’t exist, while saving you some hassle in the short term, is actually setting you up for a much bigger trouble in the future.
And that’s precisely what happened to me. I had too much problems to count, and they were mainly related to my self-confidence, family, future, overthinking, and many other things. And what I did was I just pretended that I had zero problems, were the happiest person in the world, and that no one and nothing can ever stop me, and it was a big lie.
The problem here was not with positive-thinking, at all, it was with positive-thinking while ignoring the negatives and doing absolutely nothing about them.
In Osho’s words, he elaborated that positive-thinking in the form many people adopt; which is pretending all your problems do not exist, is actually harming you
more than you can imagine. It’s because a simple concept in Chinese philosophy called “Yin and Yang”.
In the previous picture, there is a big circle which resembles life. The circle is divided into two halves, a black half and a white half. The black dot in the white half refers to the negative aspects of a generally positive thing, while the white dot in the black half refers to the positive aspects you can find in negative situations.
But how does the Yin Yang diagram relate to positive-thinking?
It’s because, Yin and Yang are completely harmonious, interconnected and complementary forces. In other words, without any of the two halves, the circle can never be complete and life can never be balanced.
When I realized this simple concept, I did not abandon my positive-thinking, at all. What I actually did is that I continued thinking positively whenever possible while simultaneously accepting and dealing with the negative. This way, I was achieving the balance required for a much stable and peaceful mind.
When you only think of positives, and go too far and even extreme in your positivity, when you eventually fall back into sadness, depression or disappointment, it’ll also be as, if not more extreme than your positive periods.
That phenomenon is simply due to the fact that Yin and Yang are equal and exist in equal proportion. So, if you go too far in denying reality, truth and pretending that everything is bright and rosy, you might very much fall back into extreme darkness.
The goal of this article is not to discourage positive-thinking. The true message from this article is to make a distinction between the ‘healthy’ positive-thinking; where you think positive while trying your best to accept, improve and maybe change the negative, and between the ‘toxic’ form of positive-thinking that we discussed and was meant in Osho’s words.
The conclusion is,
In order to live a balanced and stable life and preserve your inner-peace; you have to aware of the Yin Yang concept and the bigger picture. Ignoring your problems and pretending they don’t exist is never a solution. On the other hand, looking at life in an optimistic and positive way while being active and constructive in tackling and dealing with any problems and difficulties you might encounter is the best route towards a more fulfilling and peaceful life.
For more in-depth details about how exactly you can accept and overcome your pain and obstacles, check this article.
For a detailed guide on building self-confidence and practicing self-acceptance, check the two articles below.
1- How to build self-confidence from scratch.
2- The Importance of self-acceptance.
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