Overrated Optimism: The Peril of Positive Thinking

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bright-sided-lrgIf you’re craving a quick hit of optimism, reading a newsmagazine is probably not the best way to go about finding it. As the life coaches and motivational speakers have been trying to tell us for more than a decade now, a healthy, positive mental outlook requires strict abstinence from current events in all forms. Instead, you should patronize sites like HappyNews.com, where the top international stories of the week include “Jobless Man Finds Buried Treasure” and “Adorable ‘Teacup Pigs’ Are Latest Hit with Brits.”

Or, of course, you can train yourself to be optimistic through sheer mental discipline. Ever since psychologist Martin Seligman crafted the phrase “learned optimism” in 1991 and started offering optimism training, there’s been a thriving industry in the kind of thought reform that supposedly overcomes negative thinking. You can buy any number of books and DVDs with titles like Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude, in which you will learn mental exercises to reprogram your outlook from gray to the rosiest pink: “affirmations,” for example, in which you repeat upbeat predictions over and over to yourself; “visualizations” in which you post on your bathroom mirror pictures of that car or boat you want; “disputations” to refute any stray negative thoughts that may come along. If money is no object, you can undergo a three-month “happiness makeover” from a life coach or invest $3,575 for three days of “optimism training” on a Good Mood Safari on the coast of New South Wales.

Read more: Barbara Ehrenreich on the Peril of Positive Thinking – TIME