Positive Thinking May Come With A Very Big Negative

So much for the power of positive thinking.

Surprising new research suggests that indulging in upbeat fantasies may exacerbate symptoms of depression in the long run, even if it gives a boost to one’s mood in the here and now.

“It’s not that positive thinking is bad, or that negative thinking is good,” said Gabriele Oettingen, a psychology professor at New York University and one of the scientists behind the research. “The idea is that we need to use positive thinking and fantasies in a way that is appropriate for what we want to use it for.”

If your intent is to reach a goal that you associate with feeling happier or more fulfilled, Oettingen said, it’s important to leaven your positive fantasies with realistic thinking about obstacles that stand between you and that goal.

For example, if you wish to repair a troubled relationship with a family member, it’s probably best to think realistically about specific steps needed to turn that wish into a reality rather than simply to imagine how wonderful the repaired relationship will be.

Oettingen, who’s also the author of the 2014 book Rethinking Positive Thinking, called this dual-thinking process mental contrasting. People who use it, she maintained, may be more likely to follow through on the steps required to overcome obstacles.

For the research, published online Jan. 29 in the journal Psychological Science, Oettingen and collaborators at the University of Hamburg in Germany and the University of Virginia conducted four related experiments involving a mix of adults and children.

In one experiment, the researchers asked 88 college students to imagine themselves in 12 open-ended scenarios. The students jotted down whatever thoughts and images came to mind and then rated these fantasies according to how positive they were.

Students who came up with more positive fantasies scored lower —> Read More