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The Stress Of Positive Thinking

Used loosely, the words – ‘Think positive’ can seem invalidating, as if our emotions and our struggles just don’t matter enough

‘Chin up and keep moving forward.’ This approach is often seen at the workplace, an environment where we are expected to put our best foot forward. Experiencing hardships and talking about feelings may be perceived as a sign of weakness, and we fear that such forms of expression may impact our next raise or promotion.

What we must remember, however, is that the workplace is where we spend the majority of our waking life – from work we derive a sense of routine, achievement, purpose and social support. To reach our fullest potential at work, we need to be our true, authentic self. And to achieve this, what we need is a sense of psychological safety – that our thoughts, feelings and ideas will be met with acceptance and compassion, not judgment or criticism.

Taking a positive mindset to life is not about a denial of difficulties. In fact, most interest and research in concepts of positive psychology have been born out of human suffering. Instead, it’s about adopting a different lens to life, one that emphasizes growth, contentment and connectedness. Why do we need a different lens to look at life? Look around you – even as most of us have more material comfort than ever before in the history of civilization, we’re more discontented than ever. As our cities are overcrowded and we’re always “connected”, we’re lonelier and more disconnected than ever before. With the latest advances in medical science, we’re leading an unhealthier lifestyle than ever before. Something is going wrong.

Over time, we’ve become conditioned to believe that life should be easy, comfortable and predictable. Alas, life is none of these. What life does give up though is opportunity. We can’t always pick the situations we get put into, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a choice. We can choose how we think about the situation, which in turn impacts how we respond to the situation. And here in lies the power of positive thinking. Positive thinking doesn’t mean that we can’t feel sad or angry, no these are normal human emotions that have their own importance in our lives. What positive thinking does mean is that our sadness or anger need not dictate our actions. Instead, we make choices that align with our values and long-term vision for ourselves. It is here that resilience is born – our ability to not just bounce back from adversity, but in fact use it as an opportunity to grow and become a better version of ourselves.

Positive thinking can be a way of guiding our attention to the things that matter the most to us. Yes, there’s lots going wrong in the world. And there’s also lots that is going right, that is beautiful, that is worth being grateful for. It’s not about distracting yourself from the problem, but rather choosing what you want to give most importance to. Practicing gratitude on a regular basis can actually increase our happiness on a long term basis.

Practicing kindness and compassion is another such choice we can make. People often believe that money and material success bring the most joy. But this is true only up to a point. In fact, there’s enough research to suggest that spending money to help others has the potential to give us a lot more happiness than spending it on ourselves! But kindness goes beyond the material. Take a moment to consider the feelings of others, say a kind word, be gentle and help someone out.

More than all the above though, the secret ingredient to happiness, hope and resilience is connectedness. As human beings, we derive our greatest strength from our relationships. One of the most definitive in psychology over the past century has determined that strong relationships are the greatest predictor of both good health and happiness – beyond money, power or fame.

Invest in relationships, don’t put them on the backburner while you deal with the more ‘important’ aspects of life. Build a sense of community around you. This can include immediate and extended family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. Reach out to your support systems when you’re having a difficult time. Share your moments of sadness and joy with them, both have their own place.

This brings us back to the workplace – where we spend most of our time, derive our sense of identity and meet others who share similar experiences as us. As we move towards a happier and more ‘positive’ workspace, it’s time we harness the power of contentment, compassion, and most of all, connectedness.


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Stress Of Positive Thinking Dr. Samir Parikh

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