So, I Use “the Power of Negative Thinking”, Eh?

So, I occasionally intentionally and consciously think about “downer” topics, as I discussed in the posts “Why Tragic Fiction is Important” and “Fear of Death”. In both of these posts (particularly the first), I discuss how I feel that American culture at least (and I would say this also applies to Taiwanese culture, though it’s less applicable other Chinese-speaking cultures) goes out of its way to avoid thinking about doom, gloom, and death, and that actually seeking out some of that gloom, ironically, makes me feel better.

When people get to know my views, they often say that I am remarkably pessimistic or cynical for somebody so young, yet I think I am actually happier than average among my peers.

Well, I found this article by Oliver Burkeman in the Wall Street Journal:

The Power of Negative Thinking

This is an example of me trying very hard to figure out what I want to say, only to discover that somebody else has said it.

Of course, since Oliver Burkeman has done a lot more research on the issue, and even written a book about it, I can hardly grudge him for it.

While, not having examined the research myself, I don’t know how accurate Burkeman’s assertions are, they ring true with my experience. And this shows that, at the very least, I don’t feel alone in feeling that artificially manufacturing optimism actually creates a void of emptiness which vacuums away the ‘good’ feeling.

I like knowing that I’m not alone in this.

Of course, there is much more to say about the dark side of positive thinking – for example, it’s a tool of oppression. Oppressed groups are often told that if they only starting thinking more positively (instead of, say, getting their oppressors to stop oppressing) their suffering would go away, therefore it’s their fault that they’re suffering.

I was particularly struck by one of the last comments in the article – that ‘negative thinking’ might be more accurately called realism. If I am trying to force myself to be happy, I am also forcing myself not to think about the blues, which makes it more frightening and gives it more power over me. If I instead I accept and roll the blues, then they have less power over me. I ultimately feel that’s better for my psychological well-being.


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