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16 January 2011

Myth of the Month: Positive Thinking, Part 3

Yeah, yeah, I know: Positive Thinking was December's Myth of the Month. I fell behind. It happens. I still haven't finished typing up my TAM 8 coverage, after all.

Here, watch this: I promise that you'll enjoy it!



This reminds me somewhat of the self-esteem movement that swept public schools in the 80s and 90s, in which student morale was seemingly deemed more important than ensuring that students actually learned the material, and teachers were strongly discouraged (or forbidden) from giving students failing grades or holding them back; it's more important that they stay with their friends than that they learn what they need to learn.

This story from the New York Daily News seems pertinent:

Based on a worldwide assessment of teens' math and science, the U.S. is currently ranked 29th in science and 35th in math compared with the rest of the world.

...

Ironically, according to the recent theatrical film "Waiting for Superman," the U.S. ranks No. 1 in confidence. Yet research shows many students here tend not to worry about school, so those who do are called nerds.

So it seems fairly clear to me that positive thinking isn't enough. You also need to be competent .

But with that in mind, let me emphasise something that I should have probably made more clear a while back: although I'm coming down fairly hard on the metaphysical claims made by some of these "positive thinking gurus", that doesn't mean that I'm against positive thinking. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I am certain that thinking positively will make you happier.

I am a much happier person, generally speaking, than I was five years ago, and that has a lot to do with an adjustment of outlook. I believe that if you're committed to enjoying your life, you're much more likely to do so.

In the future, I'm hoping to read David Rakoff's Half Empty, a book of essays on the subject of pessimism. I've heard positive things!

And coming up: I'll provide a skeptical look at Rhonda Byrne's bestselling The Secret. Stay tuned!

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