Positivity Quest: Day 31- A Working Definition

“I believe, in some ways, agitating for social change is the most positive form of thinking there is. In order to do so, we must believe that one person can make a difference, that our opinion is worth voicing, and that the world can become better – if we are willing to make an effort to shape it that way.” Barbara Ehrenriech

Every now and again I get suggestions about topics for the positivity quest. I have been pondering Barbara Ehrenreich’s latest release Bright-Sided and how her important criticisms and well pointed shortcomings of the practice of positivity impact my own goals to change my mind. Ms. Ehrenreich is trained in biological research and her previous works put her at the forefront of the pack in underlining the realities of social inequity.

It was during her own recent battle with cancer that the prevailing therapeutic model of positive thinking came to enrage her. She was indignant about the idea that her cancer and the “barbaric” chemo treatments that she endured were in her mind, sugar coated to be a wise teacher. Bright-Sided starts with her questioning the scientific method and findings of studies which support the correlation between positive mind training and health crisis outcomes. She then expands the critique of positivity to include the many ways that in her view, the current cultural mechanism of expecting positive mindsets is equal to silencing the opposition and demanding complacence.

In her worldview, positive thinking places the blame for any life situation on bad thinking practices. She links positive thinking to the 70′s new age thought and the more recent magical “secret” thinking that sells big in waves. All of these positive thinking movements “blames the victim.” Whether the illness is physical disease, mental instability or socio economic poverty and despair. She traces the roots of positive psychology to many right wing, conservative organizations like the Templeton Foundation whose primary aim has been in maintaining the status quo.

In reflecting on her position, it occurs to me that the question she is asking about positivity is not properly framed. Her version of realism juxtaposes negativity and positivity. Re-framing the issue by reflecting on the relationship that the individual has to their life situation is a more helpful view of what positive thinking can bring to life. From a Buddhist perspective, situations are always neutral. They come in all shapes and sizes and realistically provoke an equally wide range of emotions including painful and difficult challenges of grief, loss, sadness, disappointment, anxiety and fear.

True positivity would never look to dismiss or diminish the honest experience of these emotions. Applying positive thinking to these emotions gives them an opportunity to move through you and transform your relationship to yourself and the world. Negative thought can often leave you stuck with the feelings and unable to see the range of choices available to you.

Human brain development is unique in all mammals because of our ability to think about how we think. Choosing a positive relationship to your personal situation in life gives you the advantage of looking for the love, peace and joy that we all hope for in our time on the planet. Illness can be a profound wake up call and the process of healing can present life transforming evolution which is true whether you live or die.

Even considering the vast extremes of socio economic realities that much of humanity lives in, studies have shown that this is not the final determinant in happiness or life satisfaction. Poverty of stuff is not always equal to poverty of spirit. Extreme wealth does not ensure happiness, wisdom or peace. The capacity for positive thinking is not magical thinking or wishing- it is about choosing how to relate to what is happening to you. Human empathy and the capacity towards altruistic action are not determined by a person’s net worth.

Mother Teresa was a channel of life energy and resources that she did not own. She is a good example of where positivity is grounded in truth and action in the world. After her death records of her own pain and doubt were uncovered. She did not live a Pollyanna positivity, facing the illness, poverty and death around her, but she chose to see the light in people that were lucky enough to meet her. How people deal with life situations has everything to do with whether or not they are open to learn something.

Choosing to find moments of joy, meeting people who are awe-inspiring and being graced by experiences of gratitude are ways of seeing that change you and give you the potential to make both your immediate world and the larger community better. They are defined as positive because they retain a reverence for life and hope for the highest part of who we can be.


Aud Nordby
Aud nordby3 years ago


Jill B.
Jill B.6 years ago

Thanks Wendy, I heard this woman on Charlie Rose a few weeks ago and was not sure what to think. Yours is a really good exploration of the meaning and benefits of being positive.

Linda M.
Linda M.6 years ago

thanks for the post

Linda M.
Linda M.6 years ago

i shall try

Mervi R.
Mervi R.6 years ago

Interesting, thanks!

Joanny Liu
Past Member 6 years ago

Holy cow! I really disagree with Yasmin!

"Health is never to be attained by studying disease and thinking about disease ....Medicine as a science of disease has increased disease..." By Wallace Wattles, The Science of Getting Rich"

Wattles wrote these lines in 1903! He's very correct. That's the model that modern medicine is built upon.

We're talking about POSITIVE thinking. If you really want to help people with Cancer then impress upon their minds that they study how to be healthy again. Uh huh! As a holistic practitioner, this screamed at me, "No!"

It's by focusing on cancer that it makes it worse. Entire populations can no longer walk around being so blind to their own powers of healing! I mean it. Drop these thoughts immediately. Be constructive instead. No more VICTIMHOOD.

Yasmin M.
Past Member 6 years ago

Close your eyes for a second and imagine what it's like to have breast cancer. Imagine the fear, the uncertainty and the pain!
Well according to the ACS this is how 211K women and 460 Men will feel this year. Let's prove to them (us) that they are NOT alone. WUSLU will be giving ALL profit to Breast cancer research for all sales until 10PM on Friday 2/12/10! The least you can do is to share this with ALL your friends
one deal per day furniture store. www.wuslu.com

Linda M.
Linda M.6 years ago

thanks for the article

Linda M.
Linda M.6 years ago


Kara S.
Kara Sanders6 years ago

there were so many great posts. may my thoughts bless your life as many of yours have blessed mine.

this is such a powerful message. seeking an optimistic point of view in life (AKA positivity) has given me several liberties i don't believe i would have had otherwise.

1) i have more control over any given situation -vs- the situation having control over me. this means i have more power to respond to a situation than react. i try to look at it from how it is a blessing and express gratitude for it.

2) i exercise my power of choice more wisely because i acknowledge the pain of the experience and its beauty as well. if i fail to acknowledge the pain, i may never see the full beauty of a situation. if fail to acknowledge the beauty, i may fail to experience all of the pain. for some this may seem like a blessing but, from my experience, what happens is i have experiences that are tremendously more painful to learn from. now i allow myself the opportunity to acknowledge and feel the full extent of all the emotions and feelings in any given situation. that has...

3) increased my ability to relate to others and feel more deeply. because there are only a few emotions in the world to share, when someone is experiencing one i have felt i can relate much easier to them even if i haven't lived the same situation.

4) when facing challenging situations, choosing to look at the bright side has taught me who really has the power to turn my life around...it's ME! i can and i