Hope is kind of like a snowball. Once you have a ‘positive’ mindset, you tend to continue to do well (or at least think you’re doing well) and you build on that positivity and turn your outlook into more tangible reward. Positive outlook is a statistical indicator of many things people value in life, including friendship development, marital satisfaction, and physical health (Frederickson 1). But I’ve known a lot of people who argued for a positive mindset, and to stay positive, “The power of positivity!” They even seem to love the word itself: “Positive!”. But to me this always seemed stupid. You also see a lot of people who tell you to ‘stay positive’ and they’re not like some genius or someone who has these mind-blowing ideas, in fact, they’re usually middling, uncreative, and boorish people. They might have friends, health, and a spouse they’re happy with, but the phrase is ‘tortured artist’ not ‘totally copacetic artist’.
Don’t get me wrong: western culture just about cums in its pants for the tortured genius narrative. Edgar Allan Poe was penniless and died an alcoholic, and although the exact causes of Poe’s death are a mystery, it’s undisputed that he wasn’t a very happy man throughout life (Edgar 5). Psychologist Allan Beveridge points out that the west has had this fascination with mental illness ever since people in the romantic era believed that the afflicted were granted mystical powers by their disability (Klein 2). Many great artists in the past decade have killed themselves, starting with Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, and most recently Anthony Bourdain. But intelligent people tend to worry more, but a study conducted by Alexander Penny at Mcewen University in Canada found that these smart people’s worries were mostly about mundane interpersonal conflicts, and not some big equation or the mysteries of the universe (Robson 5).
Negative thoughts tend to build on themselves, and like positive thoughts, snowball into more and more of the same type of thinking (Estroff Marano 1). I went to therapy for almost a year for help with my depression. I was on Wellbutrin for another year while I tried to repair my brain from the bad patterns of thinking which led to and reinforced my depression. The thing is, that your brain keeps remodeling itself throughout your life (Hellerstein 1). They call this ‘neuroplasticity’: the brain’s ability to rewire itself. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those ‘positive’ people, but I do try and catch myself when I’m building up the negativity, converting every new thought and idea into negativity. A lot of this has to do with emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence sounds like a croc of shit, but it’s actually been scientifically measured, tested, and proven. Emotional intelligence is: “(T)he ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. It is generally said to include three skills: emotional awareness; the ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and the ability to manage emotions, which includes regulating your own emotions and cheering up or calming down other people (Emotional Intelligence 1).” To me, this doesn’t sound like that ‘positivity’ bullshit, but just a different way of looking at life: everything is both objective and subjective, and you get to choose how you want to interpret something, but there’s also elements in anything that you can’t change. You can think what you want, but if you can go too far with that as well, and believe something stupid, insane, or just plain untrue like; climate change is a hoax, airplanes are releasing chem-trails to poison us all, and 9/11 was an inside job (which is really just the 21st century update to ‘the moon landing was faked’).
So what I take away from all of this is why not just be objective? Take for instance, my goals: I want to be a published writer, and if I made a lot of money and blew up like J.K Rowling or Suzanne Collins, that’d be great. I don’t expect to succeed because I don’t want to wake up at 45 with a cinder-block tied around my ankles about to jump off the golden gate bridge, but I’m going to keep a positive outlook (shut up), and say “Hey, if I succeed I succeed, and if I don’t, at least I tried. At least I had some fun along the way.”
“Edgar Allen Poe Biography”. biography.com, A&E Television Networks LLC, https://www.biography.com/people/edgar-allan-poe-9443160
“Emotional Intelligence”. psychologytoday.com, Sussex Publishers LLC, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/emotional-intelligence.
Fredrickson, Barbara L. “Open Hearts Build Lives: Positive Emotions, Induced Through Loving-Kindness Meditation, Build Consequential Personal Resources”. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, Michael A. Cohn, Kimberly A. Coffey, Jolynn Pek, and Sandra M. Finkel, National Center for Biotechnology Information, Nov 2008, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3156028/.
Hellerstein, David. “Neuroplasticity and Depression”. psychologytoday.com, Sussex Publishers LLC, 14 Jul 2011, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/heal-your-brain/201107/neuroplasticity-and-depression.
Klein, Sarah. “What Neuroscience Has To Say About The ‘Tortured Genius”. huffingtonpost.com, Oath Inc, 2 Sep. 2014, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/02/creativity-mental-illness-health_n_5695887.html.
Marano Estroff, Hara. “Depression Doing the Thinking”. psychologytoday.com, Sussex Publishers LLC, 1 Jul 2001, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200107/depression-doing-the-thinking
Robson, David. “The Surprising downsides of being clever”. bbc.com, British Broadcasting Company, 14 Apr 2015, http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150413-the-downsides-of-being-clever