This last week the CBS Sunday Morning Show featured a segment titled, “Just how powerful IS positive thinking?” According to the report, experts cannot agree whether positive thinking helps or hinders people recovering from illness. Some of those interviewed said no—and that it creates unnecessary guilt and frustration when a person continues to be ill. But others who had recovered from a life-threatening disease said it is vitally important. Doctors also seem split on the choice. But what caught my attention, and still has me thinking, is whether we are asking the wrong question? Instead of asking, “Is positive thinking powerful enough cure my cancer? Maybe we should be asking, “Can learning to think more positively make my life better (happier, more fulfilling, less painful) no matter what I’m going through?”
This line of thinking reminded me of a conversation with my father several years ago. It was a hard time for all of us, but especially for him. My mother, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, was becoming weaker and less mobile by the day following years of several small strokes. To make matters worse, she was then diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Dad was her primary caretaker for about three or four years and their life together was becoming more and more difficult and restrictive. Oh, and did I mention he also had been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer? It was a heartbreaking time.
I can’t even remember what I said but in my usual attempt to see the bright side of the situation, my words one day caused my dad to crack. He blurted out angrily, “You really believe that positive thinking crap don’t you?” His criticism surprised me because I consider my optimism to be my most valuable character trait. Still, deep inside I knew he was frustrated and in pain. All I could do was answer back, “Yes I do.”
Now no one, me included, believed that by saying and acting positive that my mother and father would be miraculously cured and that we would all live happily ever after. I knew then that it was a hard situation and my heart was breaking to see him in pain. There were times I cried about it, and I’m sure he did too. But I didn’t believe (and don’t now) that it was in my best interest—or Dad’s—to dwell in the difficulty if unnecessary. Plus, my positive optimism at that point flowed out of me because I had been working for many years to make it a priority and a habit. Even now, I choose to remember them both at happier times.
That’s why I happen to believe that the real power of positive thinking comes as a habit or mindset that leads to a happy life. I don’t believe it “cures” anything. Unfortunately, many people seem to want to believe that positive thinking is a quick solution for anything that ails them, just like popping a pill, taking a drink, finding the perfect man, or winning the lottery. Even if those things make you happy and help you forget for a short time—lasting change only comes from looking for the good, thinking positive, and choosing to believe that all is well in the world—no matter what—over the course of time. In other words, your mindset or worldview spins towards the positive no matter what. While it’s not easy, and it’s not for everyone, it can transform a person’s life.
Of course, it’s natural for any optimist who has come through a difficult and challenging time to believe that positive thinking was the cure. The CBS Sunday Morning Show actually reported that 91% of those polled believe that positive thinking can make our life better. We just need to remember that it doesn’t necessarily cure us—at least from what we believe we are fighting. What it does do is motivate us to keep trying in spite of the odds. It also keeps us focused on what we do have, instead of what we are going through. Plus, makes us pay attention to the state of our lives and experiences in a way that allows us change habits and situations for the better, that we may have ignored in the past. All together, this renewed focus and commitment, along with good health care, might bring about the cure that we desire. Still, even if it doesn’t, we can still experience a good life.
Finally, positive thinking is a lot like the saying, “Prayer doesn’t change God or the circumstance—it changes the one doing the praying.” Positive thinking doesn’t keep bad things from happening, or give you a life where nothing difficult occurs. Instead, it prepares you to optimistically face whatever comes your way. And because it is a way of living—it goes hand in hand with SMART Living 365.
“A man is but the product of his thoughts, what he thinks, he becomes.” –Mahatma Gandhi
“That’s my gift. I let negativity roll off me like water off a duck’s back. If it’s not positive, I didn’t hear it. If you can overcome that, fights are easy.” –George Foreman