The Poison of Positive Thinking

Words: Treyvone Moosa

As far as I am concerned positive thinking will fucking ruin your life. Anger and injustices need hearing. Unhappiness can be healthy.

There is an endless supply of people who are ready and willing to inform us about what we are doing wrong, and how we can alter our behaviour so we can get ahead and inject magic and happiness into our lives. Between modern day guru’s who believes “positive thoughts generate positive realities and you can “manifest your own destiny”, to capitalist public thinkers such as Oprah Winfrey telling us positive thinking can help us obtain “the sweet life,” it is easy to get misled into a muddle of mistruths.

A recent blog I read titled “Happiness is simple: why too many choices make us miserable and 5 ways to improve your life!” Yeah? Nah. Too many choices are not the issue for a huge majority of the political underclass; a lack of choice is exactly the problem. Whether it be lack of choice when it comes to quality of education, or lack of access to higher education because you were not born into wealth and privilege, or lack of choice when it comes to nutritious food or warm dry housing because wages are often too low, too often, too much choice is not an issue for the growing majority of the 99 percent; restricted choice is.

These gurus go on to tell us:

If you just change your attitude and think more positively over time, your life will get easier. Over time, you will land a job that affords you a contract guaranteeing you some security and a pay-check which does not leave you in poverty. You simply have to manifest what you want. Drink a couple of litres of water, add diamantes to your manicure, wear a fake moustache all day long (as this blog post really has suggested as a remedy for the blues), put on a nice pink dress and smile a bit more, then BOOM! That suicidal depression over the stresses of life—like being unable to buy food because you are on minimum wage, working depressing precarious jobs, and/or the debilitating anxiety over whether your welfare will be cut this week, will suddenly melt away.

It is all well and good to tell them to “smash that class-ceiling” and just work hard to achieve your dreams and the bling and designer shoes will follow, but as Laurie Penny points out in her book Unspeakable Things, there are a lot of women drowning in the basement. In particular, women of colour, trans and queer women who disproportionally suffer from poverty, depression, feelings of alienation, and are discriminated against in the work-place.

It is hard to “think positive” when treated so negatively based on the colour of your skin and/or your sexuality, when facing hate crimes, targeted violence, and when there are so many structural hurdles put in your way to success and triumph. Radical self-love gurus do not tend to promote or even engage in discussions of privilege or the disadvantages people are born into; that shit would undermine the cause of “changing yourself, not the system.”

Changing your attitude is not going to change or help to dismantle structural injustice and a failed and unsustainable economic model which serves only the elite rich of this world, and exploits the rest of us, particularly the working class and those living in poverty.

Often the message to “just think positive” and “we are all in the same boat” is not only divorced from reality, it’s an unhelpful and patronising statement to say to someone who is struggling to secure work and to stay above the poverty line, especially if they have a disability or other barriers that may prevent them from obtaining a job or a better quality of life.

Perhaps this is why I find it so hard to stomach people who tell me to think more “aspirationally” as some kind of solution to a stagnant job market, where any work I can get is underpaid and stressfully precarious. These positive attitude advocates remind me of some of my friends who would phone, without warning, to grill me about what jobs I had applied for, and how many. One in particular spent a good twenty minutes telling me how I needed to “change my attitude” and that I should take any job, even cleaning toilets at minimum wage. I got off the phone crying, not because I think I am above cleaning toilets, but because I felt harassed and humiliated. It was a defeating experience.

The disenfranchised, poor, and working class need to collectively band together to restructure the systems and expose the neoliberal policies and thinking which has helped create feelings of disconnection and discontent in the first place. Adherence and adaptation will further exasperate the situation, endorsing solutions built on neoliberalism to solve the very problems it has helped to create. This is truly next-level insanity. It doesn’t make sense!

My spiritual guru advice to you is this:

Think revolutionarily. No amount of “positive thinking” can fill the bellies of the 30.4 million people living in poverty in South Africa. I fully support declaring mutiny against governments who pass welfare reforms that push people further into crippling poverty, instead of waging mutiny against ourselves. Radical self-love and positive attitude advocates are more about adapting to a world “gone mad” and systems that do not serve you than really improving your life.

It really is your choice: adapt or disrupt?

Fight for a different paradigm! It might be a tad more productive than trying a green tea diet to purify your body, or rearranging your stationary draw so your pens are in harmony with your paper clips. Fighting for a new paradigm may bring you enemies and some deeply negative reactions, but wouldn’t you rather seek out that brutal truth than live on endlessly in someone else’s brutal fairy tale, a fairy tale which tells you:

If you change your attitude and enough of yourself, maybe someone might love you. If you work hard enough and want it badly enough maybe you will land some dream job which pays you enough to afford both rent and food and a bit of financial security. If you just play by the “rules” and adapt to a brutal capitalist system while changing what colour lipstick you wear and your “negative” thought patterns, your life will become easier and better.

If radical self-love and all that glitter and sequins and pink bows and “positive thinking” has worked for you and you have managed to manifest your dream life, then cool, I am stoked for you. But for many of us it is not the answer we are looking for: it is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

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