Inner Space
Hi, I’m Diana Demco and this is the Inner Space newsletter about my reflections on living an examined life. If you're new, you can find old editions here. You're getting this email because you signed up on my website. If you'd like to unsubscribe, click here.
One of the seemingly harmless, but ultimately destructive products of the culture we live in is the glorification of positive thinking. Although there are numerous books and studies showing its detrimental effects, it still has a hold on some people's minds and there are individuals who actively promote it (sometimes even monetizing it). Positive thinking has gained traction in part due to the popularization of positive psychology and its emphasis on the flourishing potential of humans. While this sounds good in theory, over-reliance on the bright side of life can deprive us of a fuller understanding of our human condition.

Some of the manifestations of positive thinking include saying affirmations, practicing the law of attraction (which is a whole thing into itself) and cultivating a radical approach of eliminating everything that's not sunshine and unicorns. Basically, the proponents of positive thinking posit there's good energies and bad energies in the universe, and you want to only put out the good ones, because that's how they come back to you, in the form of happiness, wealth and health.

A quick browse of the internet resources on negative thinking will overwhelmingly teach you how to get rid of that awful habit. Granted, for some people, negativity may overpower their lives, in which case, taming it down could be the desired action. However, it seems we're constantly pushed to be all smiling, optimistic zombies who only talk about the good things in their lives.

Taken too far, positive thinking can acquire a toxic form. Life is a complex tapestry of emotions and interactions, so completely shutting down the undesired ones can become a draining pursuit, which saps our joy and distances us from the authentic experience of life.

The ugly effects of toxic positivity may include:
  • ignoring or dismissing your problems
  • discounting valid emotions just because they aren't "positive"
  • blaming yourself when things don't go well
  • thinking you're not allowed to be angry or upset
Using negative thinking as a way to lead a better life has its roots in Stoicism. In his book, A guide to the good life, William Irvine introduces a Stoic exercise aimed at helping us desire the things we already have. Since we do have them, it's very likely that we wished for them in the past, but because of a phenomenon called hedonic adaptation, we've started taking them for granted.

He calls this exercise negative visualization and it entails envisioning the loss of loved ones, of beloved pets, of important objects or conditions we have (such as a fulfilling job or the ability to walk) and even our own death. It may seem grim and pessimistic, but it's precisely this that makes it valuable. The Stoics encourage that we regularly engage in this kind of visualization to gain a refreshed gratitude for life and not become complacent in our condition, because as bad as it may be, it can certainly be worse.

Benefits of negative thinking:
  • it can show us how fortunate we are
  • it can prepare us psychologically for when bad things indeed happen
  • it can prompt us to take steps to prevent the things we don't want to happen
  • it can balance out our positive thinking and give us a more balanced perspective
  • it can provide motivation to change our condition
Instead of swinging between unicorn-land or despair-abyss, we can work on treating each emotion and as a valid part of life, and learn to appreciate what we have by exercising negative visualization.

Timeless Content

Five Things You Notice When You Quit The News
Raptitude | 7 minute read
With so much stuff happening every minute in the world, it might seem important or even mandatory to be up to date with it. Wars, politicians passing bills, the state of the economy. After all, it's the duty of a responsible citizen to be informed. But is watching/reading the news the best way to do that?

David Cain shares how his perspective on the news shifted after he stopped watching it. He talks about how the news can trick us into thinking we're informed and what better ways there are to actually gain insight on a topic.

Picture of the Week

Quote I'm reflecting on

Stoic philosopher Epictetus on how to be happier:

Put at least half of your energy into making yourself free of empty wishes, and very soon you will see that in so doing you will receive much greater fulfillment and happiness.

Questions for you to ponder

What is your inner voice whispering to you these days? How much of it is true and how much of it is helpful?
Thank you for reading.

Until next time,
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