Positive Thinking Is A Lie

Plus: The truth about how to be happy

Photo: Chris Rimmer

There are many terrible things about being me, but way up near the top of that very long list is the thing about being right all the time and not receiving any acknowledgment for it. I am not even necessarily asking for some grand celebration — like, I don’t expect everyone to be all, “Huh, Alex Balk was right all along, we should shower him with accolades and admiration and give him some sort of position where he is wildly compensated for his continuing correctness, even though he is correct so frequently that no amount of compensation would really be out of line,” which is not to say that it wouldn’t be right, or appropriate — but it would be nice if every time one of my theories were proven legitimate (which, as noted, occurs with approximately the same frequency as the rising of the sun) anyone who had earlier dismissed me by saying, “Oh, Alex Balk is always so negative, you can’t listen to him,” took a moment or two to recognize that actually they were in the presence of genius and maybe next time they should act as if that were the case instead of sharing some snotty sentiment about my bad attitude in whatever secret Slack room they use to vent the opinions they are too cowardly to post in public these days. I KNOW WHO YOU ARE. Sorry, that one got away from me there. Anyway, I would like to share this with you:

A 2012 study undertaken at the University of Queensland and published in the journal Emotion found that when people think others expect them to not feel negative emotions, they end up feeling more negative emotions. A 2009 study published in Psychological Science found that forcing people to use positive statements such as “I’m a lovable person” can make some feel more insecure. Further, New York University psychology professor Gabriele Oettingen and her colleagues have found that visualizing a successful outcome, under certain conditions, can make people less likely to achieve it. Researchers have also found that people in a negative mood produce better quality and more persuasive arguments than people in a positive mood, and that negative moods can improve memory.

Yes, you read that right, the power of positive thinking is a bunch of bullshit shoved in your face by a members of a sinister cabal who want you to shut up about how awful everything really is or who think they can make money by selling you something that tells you you can trick your brain into being less realistic about life.

Here’s how positive thinking can be bad for your health

Does positive thinking work for some people? Of course! Some people think drinking their own piss makes them more healthy. And for those people that may actually be true. The brain is a remarkable organ about which we know so little, but we have for sure learned that in some people it is more susceptible to suggestion than it is in others. But what you can’t do — and remember, this is coming from me, and I am right about almost everything — is con yourself into giddiness if your mind is stuck on the “realism” setting.

Do you want to know how to truly be happy? Be born to people who can pass along the genes that let your brain see the positive side of things. Listen: You know how there are people who run into burning buildings to save the children trapped within? And when they are asked later why they did it they are humble and don’t quite understand it themselves? It’s because they are driven by impulses over which they have no control that are a direct product of the chemicals passed down to them from their parents. The person who runs away from a burning building is no better or worse than the person who runs into it (unless he started the fire in the first place, I guess), he just doesn’t have the genes that make him what we call “good” in our super-judgmental society. By the same token, the woman who can’t manage to dupe her brain into thinking that everything will be better if she writes a list each evening of what she is grateful for when everything is clearly terrible and only getting worse isn’t in any way to be scorned or dismissed for her inability to put blinders on herself and whistle a happy tune as the earth falls apart around her, she just doesn’t have the genes that allow all our smiley fuckfaced cheer-uppers to wander around oblivious to the tidal wave of shit upon which we are all trying to surf each day. Some people get them and some people don’t.

Anyway, there are three points I want you to take away from this: Positive thinking is not going to cure your terrible case of seeing the world as it is. Smiling will not make you happy. And Alex Balk, who has been saying these things FOREVER AND EVER, is pretty much always right about this stuff. It might be nice if you let him know how much you appreciated that while you still have him with you. True prophets don’t stick around forever, you know.