How negative is positive thinking?

Vic Shayne
The Self is a Belief: The idea that causes suffering

The positive thinking is not a bad thing.It has noble roots based on the intention to help people live happier, more fulfilling lives. Positive thinking is a relatively new idea credited to Norman Vincent Peale, an American minister and author who wrote the best-selling book The Power of Positive Thinking in 1952.

So what’s the problem with thinking positively? To be positive is wonderful. It helps you get along better with others, causes less stress, and makes you feel good. But is it natural and normal? It doesn’t seem that it’s normal, because most people aren’t positive. And it’s natural only for some and not for others.

To better understand how thinking more positively works, it helps to understand the sense of self, which is what you call “me,” or the egoic mind. This sense of self is created from an accretion of beliefs about who you are. From the earliest age we are trained to believe that we are individuals with relatives, a religion, a gender, certain values, a family history, and likes and dislikes. We become a judging, criticizing, conflicted “me” that perceives the world in a way particular to this psychological conditioning. Some of us emerge from this persistent conditioning as positive people, others negative, and still others somewhere in between.

The sense of self is geared to try to have pleasure and to eschew pain. Everything we do is predicated on these two actions, because they make the “me” happier to do so. Because the “me” desires pleasure, it judges the world and all actions on whether they are threatening or beneficial. Whatever we do and whatever happens is based on the question: “Is it good for me?”

When things don’t go our way — the way the “me” wants them to — then we are unhappy, depressed, anxious, jealous, envious, defensive, and so on. The “me” runs on the fuel of desire to obtain and attain. But the “me” is only a belief and does not actually exist as a tangible reality. If you try to find it you cannot. You can see the traits, the likes and dislikes, and the fears, but you cannot actually find anything except thoughts that are held onto based on your conditioning.

For the better part of a century people, psychologists, New Age leaders, yoga instructors, personal trainers, and others have been talking about positive thinking. Be positive. Don’t go around looking at the glass half empty. Do something with your life!

If you want to get out from under the yoke of the egoic self, the sense of “me,” you have to find out for yourself, through your own enquiry, what the self is, how it works, and how it’s just a bunch of thoughts. Then find out what really does exist. And you will come to realize that the sense of self is the cause of all your suffering, because of its constant effort to obtain and attain. But is this what most people want to do, to get rid of the “me”? No, it isn’t. In fact, it scares people to even think about such a thing. Why does it scare them? Because the “me” is fearful of change and annihilation. Very few of us care to push beyond this wall that the “me” has thrown up and get to the bottom of it all. The rest just want something to make them feel better. And this is where positive thinking comes in.

Positive thinking makes the conditioned mind feel better about itself; but it is a shallow enterprise that has no staying power. This is because positive thinking provides a way for the “me” to believe it has achieved something or some understanding and has become better, improved, superior, more knowledgeable, etc., but the entire playing field is within the “me” and never transcends the “me.” This is not to say that there is anything wrong with positive thinking, but it is a statement about how the mind works, which is to find meaning and a sense of control in what it perceives to be a chaotic and fearful world.

Positive thinking does not have lasting power unless you can undo the tremendous knot formed by a lifetime of thinking in certain ways. If you do it purely by way of willpower then the mind may eventually become tired of fighting and give up, falling back into its initial groove. Ironically, the effort to be positive can be a negative experience. On the other hand, if you take positive thinking to heart you may have an epiphany or two that can bring about a more lasting change, which would be good for everyone. This still would not lead to a transcendence of the egoic self, but it’s not without its benefits.

…writer for 40+ years, mind/body practitioner, self-enquiry meditation, NY Times best selling author (, consultant, researcher.

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Vic Shayne

…writer for 40+ years, mind/body practitioner, self-enquiry meditation, NY Times best selling author (, consultant, researcher.