How does “positive thinking” actually work?

It’s not actually about thoughts, it’s about feelings.

The whole point of any positive-thinking exercise or system is to feel better, and we can feel better by finding thoughts that are more positive, but we can also feel better just by finding a good feeling and practicing it.

We can all do it.  We can evoke the feeling of contentment just as easily as we can evoke the mental image of a pink elephant.

The problem is that we don’t rate these feelings as important or real or valid or true, unless they correspond to something in our circumstances.

It’s ironic, bordering on stupid, that a society awash with depressed and anxious individuals doesn’t see the value in learning to feel better regardless of our circumstances.

I was one of those people, chronically depressed and anxious, who nonetheless took some comfort in having a realistic view of the world, and not succumbing to supposedly false happiness and empty positivity.

But I was simply wrong. I underestimated…in fact I had absolutely no idea…how much better my life could feel if I felt better.

I refused to believe that what looked like real barriers or obstacles to happiness were purely a matter of perspective.

Even though I had studied philosophy and knew the finitude and limits of our knowledge of reality, I still persisted in clinging tenaciously to a “truth” based on how bad I felt.

And that’s okay. I don’t feel bad about that. In fact the decades of struggle and searching have only heightened my appreciation for the power I’ve finally realised – the power to feel good…as good as I want to feel, as good as I can imagine feeling, and to practice that until it becomes second nature.

How good can you feel? What is the most positive emotion you’ve ever felt? If you’ve felt it and remember it, you can bring it to mind, and if you practice bringing it to mind it will become more and more accessible, and your horizons will expand.

And the actual thinking aspect is there to help soften resistance to this power.

It’s to help people who can’t get their mind off everyday worries and concerns, or people who are obsessed with specific outcomes and circumstances they believe will bring them happiness, or people who fear and doubt that feeling good is more than pleasant daydreaming, or who stubbornly insist that life is meant to be full of suffering and heartache and disappointment, etc.

In other words, it’s to help all of us.

But most of what we’re seriously and strenuously thinking is just nonsense. People look for thoughts that are consistent with the feelings we are used to feeling, and we observe reality in the way we are accustomed to observe it. We rely on inertia. We interpret things through the lens we are already wearing.

Yet we are called to happiness and abundance of life. We can’t deny it forever, and in the end we’ll die anyway and everything will be sorted out that way.

While we’re hear we can at least lessen our resistance and start to heed the call of love and joy and appreciation and delight and freedom, and all the feelings we could never deny in the moment of feeling them.

All it takes is practice, giving ourselves permission to feel good, and having faith that in feeling good we really are connecting at last with all that is good within us and in all existence.

7 thoughts on “How does “positive thinking” actually work?

    • Romans 8:25–27 Topic: The Holy Spirit
      But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

      • 16 But if what I do not will, this I practise, I consent to the law that [it is] right.

        17 Now then [it is] no longer *I* [that] do it, but the sin that dwells in me.

        18 For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, good does not dwell: for to will is there with me, but to do right [I find] not.

        19 For I do not practise the good that I will; but the evil I do not will, that I do.

        20 But if what *I* do not will, this I practise, [it is] no longer *I* [that] do it, but the sin that dwells in me.

        21 I find then the law upon *me* who will to practise what is right, that with *me* evil is there.

        22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man:

        23 but I see another law in my members, warring in opposition to the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which exists in my members.

        24 O wretched man that I [am]! who shall deliver me out of this body of death?

        25 I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then *I* *myself* with the mind serve God’s law; but with the flesh sin’s law.

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