There is a huge number of books to help people think positively. These books are usually categorised under the self-help book section. Judging from the growth of the self-help industry, from $9.9 billion USD in 2016 to an estimated $13 billion by 2022, it tells us a lot about our world. If our current education and economic systems contribute to well-being, why are so many people seeking self-help? Our system is currently geared towards increasing production at the expense of happiness and well-being. Even with self-help, is it possible to think positive all the time?
Thinking Comes With Feelings
Most of us are seeking ways to feel lighter, happier more at peace. With the booming self-help industry in developed countries, this indicates that wealth does not necessary point towards happiness. Happiness and peace are mental states, which manifest as feelings. If you spend time to observe yourself, you would find that your thoughts are never separated from your feelings. For instance, you may be feeling sad that someone you love has passed on. In your mind, you know this for a fact as you can no longer be in touch with this person in your space-time. This thought could be in the subconscious, while the conscious tries to move on by distraction. Distractions could come in the form of keeping yourself busy and not talking about your grief. It may seem as though thoughts have no connection with feelings in this example, but in actual fact, it does. It only requires looking deeply within and acknowledging our thoughts and feelings.
Happiness Depends on Sadness
If we are happy or sad all the time, we would not know their opposite emotions. Using the example above, of a loved one has passed on. You could feel sad for a very long time, depending on the context such as your age when this situation took place, to how much support you had in your grief, and how you express yourself. I am not referring to a clinical depression case here.
Imagine yourself grieving non-stop for ten years. Even if it takes ten years to grieve a loved one, these ten years also had its happy and bittersweet moments right? That is because you would forget how sadness feels after some time if it is not mixed up with some form of happiness. It is because you have experienced happiness, that is why you are able to compare the differences between happiness and sadness.
Can You Think Positive at All Times?
It is not possible to think positively all the time. If we were to always be happy, we would not know what happiness is because we would not have experienced sadness. Feelings are always accompanied by thoughts. It would be unreasonable to expect someone to feel happy right after being retrenched when s/he did not plan on being jobless. There is also an unreasonable expectation to think someone would be able to think positive immediately after a bad health diagnosis, even if this person has trained to be a positive thinker for a long time.
But it also does not mean that we have to always be negative about life – despite its many challenges which ultimately ends up in death, whether we like it or not. Instead of being involved in the emotions and thoughts, we can choose to be the observer of the ebbs and flows of life itself.
Be An Observer
Life is an inner experience made up of our body, feelings, and thoughts. These three aspects of ourselves are always moving, in waves of ups and downs with neutral feelings and states in between.
When we train our attention in meditation, we are able to pay attention and observe our inner experience. By being an observer, we can acquaint ourselves with our thoughts and feelings, and how it affects the body. Even if we cannot avoid being negative, at least, these states would not last.
It takes time to train our attention and become an observer. We may still have regrets by behaving in unpleasant ways while experiencing negative states. But little pockets of peace experienced through mindfulness training helps keep this practice going – even if we might be defeated by our negative emotions from time to time.