Think positive! That’s a real battle cry of our time. Even in the case of strokes of fate, it is expected that one recognizes the added value of such a one as soon as possible afterwards and returns to one’s permanently smiling existence.
The absurdity of social positive madness negates a law of nature: Our life is – for better or worse – unpredictable. Human emotions are our answer to this and there should be no room for them. Suffering is unwanted.
Happy or sick?
A heavy fate in life is the death of a loved one. Actually, one might think that the time and depth of grief – depending on the duration and intensity of the connection – may vary. That’s not so.
The public demands boundless optimism. Mourning should take place in private, as quietly as possible, not burdening others and not for too long. Even medicine expects us to do that.
If grief lasts too long, a person is considered mentally ill. This is stated in the diagnostic manuals of mental disorders of the American Psychiatric Association. Here it is established that prolonged mourning – for example, over the death of a loved one – is a mental illness in need of treatment.
A permanent smile really can’t be the only answer to the hardships of life, can it?
Assuming that positive thinking is the key to happiness, what are our options? Do we have a cognitive portfolio for positive thinking? Let us consider two “positive schools of thought” that are at our disposal.
The discipline of optimism rooted in reality
In this way of thinking positively, we assume that in the future our lives will continue to be similar to what they have been up to now. We are still alive – so it was not so bad! If we are not hungry and do not suffer war, we can assume that this will not change in the future.
In the spirit of Nicholas Nassim Taleb, we live like a turkey who, because of his well-meaning past, cannot even imagine what will happen to him on Thanksgiving. The added value of this is obvious: we do not need to fear possible future horror visions.
How does that work, an “optimism rooted in reality”?
On the basis of past experience, an optimistic picture of the future is drawn. An intuitive, equally rational expectation of the future – this is how the founders of positive psychology, Martin E.P. Seligman, together with Prof. Peterson, defined it. Their concept should be understood as a positive “counterpart” to the above-mentioned diagnostic manual of mental disorders.
In the “positive counterpart” – her book – a suitcase of aids is offered that make you happy: Forgiveness, a gracious look into the past, a hopeful look into the future and attentiveness to the present are part of it.
The gracious look into the past teaches us to look hopefully into the future. The mindful concentration on the moment helps us to enjoy and neglect the horrors of the past and worries about the future.
Provided we have suffered a few hard blows of fate or have a certain degree of resilience, this is a down-to-earth and good strategy to feel luck and gratitude.
But what if we are a hard case and we cannot – for whatever reason – think our reality beautifully?
The discipline of the unrealistic daydreams
An optimism that is not anchored in reality, but rather helps to escape it? A spirit on the move, far from reality? What for, one wonders? These daydreams are by no means as unproductive as one has long thought.
When our attention is not demanded in reality – such as in routine activities where our thoughts wander – or is overwhelmed because fate has struck, then the hour of daydreaming comes.
Our thoughts turn their backs on the present and turn towards our own inner world. Our brain then begins to occupy itself with itself and to explore the unknown universe where earthly laws do not apply.
Mind journeys comfort and make creative
He who fantasizes can take comfort in it. In our dreams our life is always happier and better than in reality. That is why daydreams can tell us a lot about our wishes and desires. But we can take more than comfort.
Studies by psychologists Benjamin Baird and Jonathan Schooler from the University of California at Santa Barbara have shown that people who often daydream have above-average originality in creativity tests. Daydreaming apparently helps creativity to take off.
According to estimates by psychologists, we even spend around 50 percent of our waking time in a state of daydreaming, i.e. with our thoughts on the road. Such daydreams probably make it possible to imagine things that go beyond what seems to be realistic and at the same time to reinvent reality and make it creative. No earthly law applies on such journeys: You can speak all the languages of the world, be in different places at the same time, fly and be with loved ones who have long since passed away. Obviously a perfect world to find solutions for earthly problems!
Randy Buckner and Daniel Carroll from Harvard University have recognized that daydreaming happens in those areas of the brain that enable us to make mental projections. The brain activates a network of areas, which is called the “default mode network” (DMN) or sleep mode network. But our brain never rests: not when we sleep, nor when we dream. Our brain researches, plays and fantasizes like a child – if not, it is dead.
We cannot change the impassability of life: Life is often hard and cruel. But the power of our thoughts provides us with a tool to escape injustice.
We all carry within us a place where EVERYTHING is possible. If that’s no reason to smile, what is? It should say “If you can’t think positively, dream pretty!”