Awesome… or pretty good… or hmmm.   7 comments

I often feel as though I am in some information backwater hole.  I heard for the first time today about The Book of Awesome that has been on the NY Times bestseller list for most of 2010 and about the author’s related internet site voted international blog of the year.  When I heard his TED talk, I found Neil to be quite articulate and funny.  It made me think.  (I know, I know, dog hair and crumpled paper make me think).  

Neil tells us of two huge sorrows that happened a month apart–his wife told him that she didn’t love him anymore and his best friend committed suicide.  He became quite sad and needed something to improve his outlook, so he started his blog (1000 awesome things) to remind himself of the good things in life, simple things like naps and french fries.  In the face of life’s tragedies, he recommended that we focus more on positive things, even small positive things, to counter-balance the negatives.  Though his message was upbeat, I felt disconcerted by his sudden shift in perspective from thousands dying in an earthquake in Haiti to his joy in putting on fresh, warm underwear.  I do not fault Neil, who was given 18 minutes to speak on a narrow topic.  He had little time to develop or nuance his thoughts.  Besides, he seems like a nice guy.  Still his talk raises many questions for me.  PLEASE give me your thoughts!  (If I’ve given too many questions, just pick one or just give your general impressions.  My point is to open a dialogue.)  My assumption is that thinking about small joys is generally beneficial, but may have limitations (especially if we expect too much of it).  Try to be kind and humble in your responses (or pretend to be!).  Here goes:

To what extent and in what ways do pleasant thoughts (positive thinking) help or hinder our strength, growth, and relationships… and thereby our happiness? 

To what extent and in what ways do unpleasant thoughts (thoughts that come with sadness) help or hinder our strength, growth, and relationships… and thereby our happiness? 

Can simple joys (or profound joys) compensate for tragedies or do they just help us not sink too low?  What is “too low,” how would we describe it, and why is it beneficial to avoid?  

Is it possible to take positive thinking too far?  If so, what negatives might result? 

If positive thinking is not sufficient in itself to resolve our emotional response to tragedy, what do we need in addition?

And finally a more specific question: how can we tell when a focus on the positive is feeding denial?

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Posted January 10, 2011 by janathangrace in Uncategorized

7 responses to “Awesome… or pretty good… or hmmm.

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  1. To what extent and in what ways do pleasant thoughts (positive thinking) help or hinder our strength, growth, and relationships… and thereby our happiness?Just a few quick thoughts to throw out here… First, let me say… GREAT Questions!!! Speaking from my own personal experience, I find that when I began to look for the best in people (giving them at least the benefit of the doubt) it helped with my own stress level. As a simple example (and since I am married to someone who is challenged by other drivers on the road) when someone is driving very slow in front of me I try to consider the possibility that 1. they’re having a bad day… 2. they’re ill and just trying to get to the doctor… 3. they’re driving a car they’re not familiar with and possibly scared. Now I know that someone (I won’t mention any names here) will be VERY quick to say “then they shouldn’t be on the road!” for most if not all of these possibilities. But for me, this helps me to offer grace and as a result of the grace I’m offering, I don’t get irritated. On the other hand, if I’m not the driver and I offer this grace as I ride along with someone else (again no names) who gets continually agitated by the person in front of them who has the audacity to drive 2 miles under the speed limit and can’t also offer the same grace it makes me frustrated… not at the other driver. So, I guess this would be a good example of how my positive thoughts can be a help (when I’m the driver) or a hindrance (when someone else is the driver). I also must add that I don’t believe this is something that someone can just “do”. I think, for me, part of it was demonstrated through others and the other part was a sincere desire on my part to be more like Jesus… not because I have to or should be, but because my life is sweeter when I am.Pam G

  2. OK, I could start writing on just one of these questions and get tied up for days. I have a terrible addiction to interesting questions! there are so many fascinating avenues of thought one could go wandering down and each leads into many others and on and on. I don’t “have” thoughts about the questions you pose. But I only have to think a little about any one of them and my mind will start creating thoughts. And if I start writing those thoughts I’ll get completely entangled in my own mental processes and won’t find my way out until I’ve written pages on each one!!I’ll just give one short thought and then quit! I think that any such question cannot be thought about in general terms but is completely specific to each individual person and is really really different for each person. there are no rules, no truth, no reality – just lots and lots and lots of experiences. And even the experiences for any given person may change the answers they find for themselves to these questions from one day to the next.ok I’m done. I can’t get caught up in my mind with this!!!love youSisterMardi

  3. I am reluctant to comment, largely because I suffer from a similar condition as you have revealed in your previous note. I call it co-dependency…an addiction to the approval/acceptance of others. In commenting I expose myself. So be it. I’ve heard it said that our culture is fuled by an addiction to (worship of) relief. Whether it be relief of hunger, cold, loneliness, sorrow, fear, discomfort, rejection, pain… It is an American “right,” the “pursuit of happiness.” If relief, or happiness, is the goal, then positive thinking may produce a temporary fix, but reality can sometimes just be too powerful to be doused by a few happy thoughts. To seek healing for grief by focusing on other minor pleasures is like seeking a cure for a brain tumor by taking Tylenol. This form of worship assumes that what is unpleasant in life is negative, and what is pleasant is positive. But what brings grief cannot be measured as negative or positive by we who possess so small a perspective on the eternal mosaic. I believe that true emotional health is found in acceptance…acceptance of the pain, or happiness that has been placed in our path; acceptance of the reality that I may never get relief this side of glory. Such capitulation, however, is untenable unless coupled with satisfaction in the complete adequacy found through relationship to God through Jesus Christ. The “God of all comfort” is enough to supply my needs in grief. The “fountain of living waters” is enough to indulge my thirts. I don’t remember the source of the quote…”God is most glorified In me when I am most satisfied in Him.” To some, finding joy in the midst of sorrows somehow cheapens or diminishes the value of that which was lost. Not so. It simply places the effects and consequence of the loss into the hands of Him who “causes all things to work together for good.” It assumes that God, Himself, is intimately involved in the sweeps and strokes that make life what it is. What produces pain in my life is not necessarily negative. If I avoid allowing it to touch my heart, I also avoid God’s purposes for allowing it into my life. Since I believe God is good, I can also believe that His purposes are good, and that they are worth my sorrow. As for all the small pleasures of life, enjoying them as pleasures given by a loving Father for my pleasure is much more fun than just using them as a tonic for my discomforts.Thanks for the chance to meditate on my all-sufficient Lord.Christine Morris

  4. Hmm. I agree that spiritual wisdom often lies in acceptance of the the pain in life as well as the joy. But sometimes spiritual courage is required to struggle against the sorrow in whatever way we have been given. Like the old prayer by some saint: Lord help me to change the things I can, accept the things I cannot change and the grace to know the difference. I think in response to: “To what extent and in what ways do pleasant thoughts (positive thinking) help or hinder our strength, growth, and relationships… and thereby our happiness?” that happiness doesn’t come from events or from the thoughts we think. Happiness is a mystery and comes and goes. We only imagine we can cause it to happen. People pushing “happy thoughts” on me can actually debilitate me, cut off my strength, discourage me from even wanting growth. On the other hand I find when I occupy my mind with the things that discourage me, the things that hurt me, the things I want to change about my life experience, it does tend to grow in importance and take over my mind, which does make me unhappy. So even though “happy thoughts” can’t make me happy, unhappy thoughts definitely make me unhappy. It’s kind of like a ratchet wrench set in one position, I keep twisting it and going down but can’t set it to twist in the opposite direction and go up!! So I just try to avoid thinking about the stuff that makes me unhappy – gotta stop that ratchet wrench from turning.love you!

  5. @Pam – Boy, can my wife empathize with you!  Whenever I get frustrated with someone else and Kimberly takes the other person’s side, it feels very bad to me.  I feel shamed and need to defend my (irritated) feelings even more.  I’m learning that when my feelings about a person/situation seem stronger than others feel in that situation, my own issues are showing.  If I then tell myself, “You’re over-reacting. Calm don’t.  Stop feeling so irritated,” and try to control or reason or shame my feelings away, I seem to stifle my personal insight and growth.  On the other hand, if I am sympathetic to my own reactive feelings, not as a means of justifying myself but as a means of understanding myself compassionately, I often uncover all sorts of hidden roots of shame.  I start with the (supportive) question, “Why do I feel more strongly about this than others do? Why is it more difficult for me to bear?”  The other driver is long gone by then, so hopefully it will help me a little with the next one!

  6. @Christine Morris – Thanks for sharing.  Sounds like you have a lot of experience with unpleasant feelings.  I’m glad you are able to accept those and not condemn yourself for them.  It also sounds like you find real emotional relief/comfort by trusting God.  I find myself struggling a great deal to rest in God’s love, sometimes more sometimes less.  My insecurity with God has many long and tangled roots and will take a lifetime, I think, to dig out.

  7. @sistermardi – I like your analogy of the ratchet wrench!  I can see how focusing too much on negative situations could lead to a downward spiral.  Life sure is full of complications and twists when it comes to sorting through our psyches.

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