Is There Really Power in Positive Thinking?

One of my favorite topics of discussion in the Afternoon Edition is happiness. In fact, I’ve written a lot about this subject in recent months. Whenever I do, I get some fantastically positive responses from readers.

Today, the operative word in our ongoing happiness discussion is "positive." As in, the power of positive thinking and the movement that’s generally known as positive psychology.

I got to thinking about this subject when I read a story featured in Skeptic magazine. Skeptic often questions a lot of the commonly agreed-upon concepts that many people tend to accept uncritically.

In "The Negative Side of Positive Psychology," Carol Travis challenges the issue of positive thinking and its efficacy on our lives in several interesting ways.

As Travis writes:

Over the years I have grown quite grumpy about positive thinking. I don’t object to it as a general life strategy, of course; but the oversimplified litany of alleged benefits it produces is scientifically problematic.

What follows is some interesting and compelling support for this contrarian thesis.

Travis’ stance comes after years of updating introductory psychology textbooks with coauthor Carole Wade.

She says the new research on this issue actually continues "whittling away our previous discussions of positive psychology’s benefits."

According to Travis:

A decade ago, studies were indeed reporting that optimism is better for health, well-being, and even longevity than pessimism is. The pop-psych gurus were ecstatic, some claiming that having an optimistic outlook would prolong the life of people suffering from serious illnesses. That hope unfortunately proved false: A team of Australian researchers who followed 179 patients with lung cancer over a period of eight years found that optimism made no difference in who lived or in how long they lived.

The findings reported by Travis were by no means isolated to just longevity.

Other issues commonly thought to be beneficial byproducts of positive psychology and an optimistic view of the world showed that too much optimism can actually be harmful under many circumstances.

Travis uses the example of optimistic gamblers who are more likely to keep on gambling even when they are losing money.

Then there is evidence that optimists are more likely to suffer from depression when the hoped-for outcome in important situations does not turn out the way they expected.

Travis also says that optimism can actually backfire in situations where it keeps people from preparing themselves for complicated outcomes, such as those associated with medical surgeries, "because they wave off practical concerns with ‘Oh, everything will be fine.’"

In place of just a general (or what you might call blind) sense of optimism, Travis offers up what is called "skeptical optimism."

For optimism to reap its benefits, therefore, we might say a skeptical optimism is required. You can recite "Everything is good! I’m adorable! Everything will work out!" 20 times a day, but it won’t get you much (except worried glances from your neighbors).

It must be grounded in reality, spurring people to take better care of themselves, regard problems and bad news as difficulties they can overcome, and get off the couch to solve their problems.

Optimism needs a behavioral partner.

This is an insight I’ve long held as well.

Yes, it is important to have a positive attitude and to be generally optimistic about life. After all, no one likes a curmudgeon.

Yet those who tend to see the world through unrealistic, ungrounded and "too rosy" lenses also are setting themselves up for unhappiness.

The world is a beautiful place, filled with wonder and enjoyment. Yet it’s also a place where constant struggle, constant effort and constant hard work are required to get through each day.

So, if you want to really be happy, try balancing your optimism and positivity with a healthy dose of "skeptical optimism" about individual outcomes.

It just might make the journey a whole lot better.


Over the past couple of days, we’ve devoted the Afternoon Edition to the issue of Apple vs. the FBI.

Today we learned that the Department of Justice has given Apple until Feb. 26 to cooperate with the FBI’s request.

Meanwhile John McAfee — the name behind the McAfee antivirus software — offered to hack the San Bernardino shooter’s phone himself, free of charge.

McAfee stands with Apple. He says creating a backdoor would be …

"a bigger boon to hackers and to our nation’s enemies than publishing our nuclear codes and giving the keys to all of our military weapons to the Russians and the Chinese."

For all the support Apple is receiving from its tech colleagues and customers alike, it also has a vocal opponent. GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump is calling for an Apple product boycott until the company cooperates with the FBI.

Uncommon Wisdom Daily readers are just as impassioned about this hot-button subject, on both sides of the debate.

And for good reason.

The privacy vs. security tug of war has really been put in the forefront of America’s collective mind this week. And the outcome on which side will prevail still is very much an unknown.

Here are a couple more reader comments that highlight the ideas on each side of the issue:

Dennis writes:

I disagree with Apple on this one for a simple reason: The phone device did not belong to the individual that Apple is trying to protect. It belonged to a county agency where the individual worked. I am quite certain that this person’s employer made it clear to him and other employees that use of the phone had some restrictions.

Similarly, universities throughout this nation have restrictions on the use of their computer network systems (network data transmissions) to allow usage strictly for educational purposes … I believe the employer in this situation can access the information and surrender it to any appropriate legal authority that makes a good case for its cooperation.

Brad response: While I understand this good point, it still doesn’t change the fact that the FBI wants Apple to create a tool that it doesn’t already have. This would effectively create a "backdoor" to encrypted data on all iPhones, not just the one iPhone in question.


Finally, we have this comment that I suspect highlights the widespread conflicted opinions of many Americans, myself included.

Dave writes:

1. Americans have a better chance of winning the lottery or being struck by lightning than they do of being killed in a terrorist attack.

2. The FBI can stop being lazy and do some actual detective work, rather than asking Apple to do their job for them (for free as well)!

3. If they wanted to get data off just one phone, they would not have asked for a skeleton key!

4. We all have things that are private and no one’s business!

5. I don’t even like Cook, but he works for Apple’s shareholders and customers. He is doing his job, not trying to be popular. He has his priorities straight. This decision is more patriotic than some shadow war on Apple customers.

Brad response: Dave, I couldn’t have said it better myself.


If you’d like to weigh in on today’s topic on positive thinking, or on the FBI vs. Apple issue, or on any of the broad topics we cover in the Afternoon Edition, you can do so by leaving me a comment on our website or sending me an e-mail.


Elsewhere in the news today:

Stocks finished a quiet session just slightly in the red. But that didn’t stop the major indices from enjoying their best week in what has otherwise been a very downbeat start to 2016.

•  With oil inventories at their highest since the Great Depression, oil prices continued to fall. WTI crude gave up 3.6% in today’s session.

•  U.S. consumer price inflation is on the rise, boosted by rising rent prices and healthcare costs. The Consumer Price Index rose 0.3% in January, its biggest jump since August 2011. This data keeps the door open for the Fed to continue raising interest rates.

•  Applied Materials (AMAT) surged 7% after reporting good earnings and guidance for next quarter. And in your Monday morning edition, JR Crooks will give you his reasons why he thinks the stock is heading even-higher from here.

Good Luck and Happy Investing,

Brad Hoppmann


Uncommon Wisdom Daily

Your thoughts on “Is There Really Power in Positive Thinking?”

  1. Regarding your thoughts on positive thinking, there is more to it than many people realise. In my view the best place to start is with Dr Bruce Lipton, one of the earliest stem cell researchers who wrote the book The Biology of Belief. As a quick introduction (34 mins) see the short summary of Lipton’s thinking at:

    He specifically mentions the placebo/nocebo effect which demonstrates the power of the mind to either heal the body or or adversely affect it and how positive thinking in itself is inadequate to change. There are increasing numbers of authors of different scientific or medical backgrounds expanding upon this matter, particularly the folliowing.

    Former medical researcher Dr David Hamilton wrote How Your mind Can Heal Your Body.

    A physician who came to believe that mainstream allopathic medicine is not always providing the best treatment because of the mind’s influence is Dr Lissa Rankin. She has written Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.

    However, for a more thorough, studious and comprehensive reading consider Dr Joe Dispenza who wrote You Are The Placebo: Make your Mind Matter.

    There are many interesting Youtube videos for all these authors.

    These and other authors say that manifesting the placebo effect requires that one believes completely that one is already healed and not permit thoughts that suggest the healing has not yet occurred. Interestingly, 2000 years ago, ignoring religious matters, an itinerant preacher taught that you could have whatever you believe you already have, but such belief (ie faith) must not be confused with hope. Another biblical verse requires one to claim those that be not as though they were. This is clearly the placebo effect in action. Such teaching goes beyond personal health and although ignored by the Western churches at large is employed in the secular world in the teaching about the Law of Attraction or Cosmic Ordering.

    I am convinced that were medical practice not so much under the control or unhealthy influence of ‘big pharma’ such matters would get more attention which would be to the benefit of public health.

  2. Consider what the options would be … if the referenced parties were in any other country … Cooperation or Death!

  3. I do not like big government. But this case seems fairly straight forward. We have ONE phone that was used by a vicious terrorist that killed 14 people. We need to know who he was talking to to see if other plots are in the make and who the aholes are he was talking to. If there are other plots afoot, and Apple does not provide the info…..they will be complicit, IMO. They do not have to give the govt anything but what is on the phone. This is not like a request for access to thousands of accounts. BTW…..congress is already drafting legislation for cases such as this and it has bi-partisan support.

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