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Positive Thinking


I have said in the past that some forms of negative thinking can bring positive results, but there are limits to that teaching. There is, for example, nothing positive about self pity. It's very negative and very soul-destroying. So obviously there are forms of negative thinking which do not produce positive results.

It is one thing for people to open their eyes to reality, to count the cost, to anticipate problems and to deal constructively with them in advance. These are the kind of "negative" thoughts that can bring positive results. For example, one of the most positive things we can do with our lives is to face up to what is probably one of the most negative things about our lives; and that is that we are going to die one day. So there is much that can be said in favour of this kind of "negative" thinking, and the good fruit that can come as a result of it.

By the same token, so-called positive thinking that ignores problems just because they are unpleasant, is not positive at all. Most of the world is running away from the truth, simply because it is uncomfortable; but their running away does not alter the bitter consequences of what they have tried to escape. Such "positive thinking" is not positive at all, and it should be exposed as such. I certainly don't want people hiding problems from me in an effort to make things sound rosier than they are! Most of what we have accomplished today is because we have faced problems and dealt with them constructively.

However, some forms of negative thinking are just plain destructive, and the only antidote is a heavy dose of positive thinking. Negative thinking is destructive when it goes beyond reality and creates a feeling of hopelessness. Cynicism and depression result from focusing too heavily on the negatives. They can quickly develop into a form of self-deception which both magnifies problems and obliterates solutions.

One of the most popular and inspirational verses in all the Bible tells us that "All things work together for good to those who love God, and who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28) This verse has inspired many people to turn what may otherwise have been negative circumstances into positive moments of learning and victory. Everything we endure is part of an exciting adventure in spiritual growth. And we need to keep this positive vision in order to maximise our full potential in life.

Two people are injured in an accident, paralysing them both from the waist down. One cannot stop thanking God that he or she was spared; while the other can only think about how much more difficult life will be. It's all a matter of what you focus on... the positive or the negative.

We could refer to this aspect of positive thinking as focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel. But sometimes it pays to consider that even the tunnel may be a figment of your imagination. Someone once said, "I felt bad because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet." If he was in the middle of a snowstorm, we could say that the man was being philosophical about something that was still a pretty serious problem. But if the weather was warm, and he wasn't likely to be walking long distances, maybe the man didn't even need the silly shoes. Maybe it was a blessing to be without shoes, and to experience the freedom of walking on the grass in his bare feet.

Too many times we create imaginary crosses where we could be rejoicing in abundant blessings. We start imagining that every little word, and every little look from someone is a personal attack on us. The slightest task becomes an insurmountable battle. Every ache or pain is described as unbearable anguish. Unnamed fears lurk behind every door.

But reality may be that we are some of the luckiest people on earth, basking in incredible prosperity of every sort. Our material circumstances may not need to be altered one single bit in order for us to discover the reality that we have been blinded to.

The person suffering from depression gets stuck into a groove where their attention is turned only to negative thoughts, negative memories, negative expectations. Scientific experiments have shown that focusing on one negative thought creates a kind of "search and find" mechanism in your brain which highlights all other negative files. So one negative thought reminds you of another, and another, until all you can see are negative files; it is as though the positive files in your brain no longer exist. You honestly cannot remember (or even think of) anything positive.

When this happens, your concept of reality has been so distorted that it really is a complete lie. Oh yes, some of the facts may be true: your girlfriend did leave you; you did lose your job; the house really did burn down; or whatever. But you have lost the ability to put that tiny little truth into perspective with a much bigger picture. You have totally forgotten that you weren't getting along well with your girlfriend anyway, and that her sister (who is much cuter) is interested in you. You won't let yourself think about the possibility that you could get another job, much less a better job with greater prospects. And it is almost as though the fact that the house is insured (and your family escaped unhurt) doesn't exist. So your "facing facts" may only be facing a distortion of the full facts.

Experiments have shown that overcoming some mild forms of depression can be as simple as inserting a pencil between your teeth sideways. Doing this literally forces you to smile, and the smile starts off a new chain reaction in the brain, which starts to light up the more positive files. If you then start thinking about some of those positive things, that action leads you to discover other positive files, and before you know it, it will be the negative files that will almost seem to disappear.

In either case, your circumstances do not need to alter. You can become depressed when everything outwardly appears to be going well; and you can become victorious even in the midst of the worst battles. Of course, when you're being really positive, you won't even be tempted to think of your situation as being a battle, much less your worst battle, because all that is happening will be so incredibly exciting that it will seem more like an adventure!

The poem says, "Count your blessings. Name them one by one. And it will surprise you what the Lord has done."

I'm not advocating that people ignore reality. But I am suggesting that it may take a lot more effort for some people to get the full picture, simply because they have allowed themselves to get sucked into that vortex of self-destruction called depression. And these people may have to actually behave in a way that (to them) seems to be denying reality. But as you make that extra effort to see how much you have to be thankful for, you will soon find yourself wondering why you ever let yourself get so depressed in the first place. There are so many others who have suffered more, and endured it for longer!

Life is great! And there is so much (right now!) for us to be thankful for! So let's start thanking God and appreciating one another... while we still have so much opportunity to do so!

(See also Smile, God Loves You!)

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