People misunderstand New Thought and Positive Thinking philosophies. They tend to think that Religious Scientists, Divine Scientists, followers of the Fillmores, and Peale-esque Positive Thinkers are just pie-in-sky, rose colored glasses types who can’t understand how rotten life can be. They accuse the positive thinking crowd of not being more careful with social analysis and not being compassionate toward those in need. I disagree with their assessment of the New Thought/Positive Thinking schools.
Those who choose optimism over pessimism, hope over despair aren’t delusional. Those who know that an “I think I can” attitude is more energizing than a “what’s the use attitude” are actually quite practical. Those who look for what is left more than at what is lost, who learn from failure rather than feel defeated by it, who dare to believe they deserve Good in their lives even when it doesn’t seem to be showing up, and who choose to believe every experience can lead to something better even if the experience itself is disappointing aren’t denying the painful moments, they simply aren’t letting those moments define them; they aren't letting the painful moments be the last word in their personal stories.
What happens in life may not be all in our heads, but in another way, maybe it is. If people’s attitudes, thoughts, and actions weren’t motivated by greed, would there be as much poverty in the world? Maybe the poor haven’t created their own poverty, but collective thoughts and attitudes have contributed to the problem of poverty. And those who see blessings in spite of their poverty - are they really poor? And the person who made a conscious decision to resist poverty, to work two or three jobs, to get an education, to save every penny possible, and to raise himself or herself out of poverty no matter how long it might take…isn’t that positive attitude more likely to help that person succeed than a defeatist acceptance of an unpleasant situation?
The same observations could be made about health, happiness, relationships, etc. Our attitudes may make us feel that things are better, or worse than others would judge our situation to be. Our attitude might help us overcome difficulties, or find encouragement and peace in spite of them. Clearly, our attitude about our circumstances is important…perhaps as important (or more) than the circumstances themselves. Positive Thinking encourages us to hold onto the thoughts that will help us feel better so that we can give our best effort and make the most of life. So, really, improvement does begin with our thoughts. That doesn’t mean we aren’t to care about others…of course we should care! Positive thinking doesn’t mean that disappointments never happen, or that people should be blamed for their suffering…but positive thinking does say that hope is what suffering people need, and suffering is more likely to be comforted with optimism than with fear.
Helping people “look for the silver lining” is actually offering them empowerment. And even if our highest hopes and best efforts don’t prove successful, didn’t hope feel better than misery? Didn’t attempting something feel better than waiting for the worst to happen? Doesn’t trying and failing feel better than not trying at all? And if we learn something useful from the failure, isn't that better still?
Positive thinking might bring forth a miracle; and even if it doesn’t, it still seems to be a better plan and giving in to fear, regret, and despair.
Today may my thoughts be positive and my attitude hopeful. May I always do my best and feel good about my efforts.
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins