There’s an article in Psychology Today from yesterday (Psychology Yesterday?) called “Why Positive Thinking is Bad For You” by Srikumar Rao. His basic point is that trying to “turn lemons into lemonade” is counterproductive, because it requires first thinking of the circumstance as bad. This is straight out of the psychological principle responsible for the trick in the title of George Lakoff’s fantastic book on political framing, “Don’t Think of an Elephant“. It’s impossible to obey that sentence, because by the time your brain has processed the fact that it should steer clear of elephants, it’s already thought of them. It’s similar with reminding yourself to make lemonade out of lemons; thinking that thought by default casts your situation as bad.
Rao advises instead to avoid labels of good and bad, and just treat situations at face value. That’s part of the requisite replacement paradigm, but he misses a couple crucial points important to this philosophy:
Rao seems to be advocating the denial of our feelings about difficult situations, and that’s a big mistake. Avoiding your emotions can only lead to more stress and pain. So, avoid thinking of things as “bad”, but don’t hide how you’re feeling. Be forthright about it. Your problems aren’t snowballs pelted at you by the fates, they’re just the workings of the world. It’s okay to be sad about the workings of the world.
But how do you avoid letting your emotions kick you down a destructive spiral into depression? If you allow your feelings to run away with you in hard times, you might land back in the boat Rao is trying to help us out of. To avoid thinking about elephants or lemons, you have to be focused on pragmatics. “Okay, what do we do now? How do we get from here to where we want to be?” If you’re centrally focused on that attitude, you won’t stress out when you’re in a bad place. Figure out what the fundamental aspects of your situation are that are making you feel sad or angry or depressed, and change them. Change is usually hard. But this is how you can avoid feeling shat upon by the world. Go for it! What are you going to do when you’re done reading this post?