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Affirmations in the New Age movement refer to the belief that the practice of positive thinking and holding a positive attitude are strong enough to allow anyone to achieve success in anything they do. The Secret has been the moving force in this believe system, as it has been advocated and supported by millions.
Everyone from Oprah, to Big Sean, to Montel has claimed The Secret works and has encouraged everyone to do the same. Positive Psychology is not the same as positive thinking and or affirmations and it is one of the largest misconceptions of this field, especially with the rise of the New Age movement.
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The Breakdown of the Secret
The basic idea of the Secret is in the Law Of Attraction: like attracts like. What this means is that our thoughts, emotions, and attitudes are a magnetic frequency that manifests into our reality. If we can take control of our emotions and thoughts, we can manifest anything we desire into our reality.
The Secret repeats that it works every single time for every single person who uses it because the universe responds to us. There’s an obvious appeal to this: we can have whatever we desire because our future is ultimately in our hands.
Every single instinct in our bone dances at the thought of this desire for immediate gratification, which explains why so many people ran to The Secret and Law of Attraction in the first place. It also presented itself as a part of psychology so beautifully, bringing the topics of Psychology, Philosophy, and Physics into its arguments.
Now, thinking positively about things significantly changes our perspective on what we are experiencing. This can influence the way reality unfolds because we are looking at our life through a different angle. This is why Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy emphasizes to the client to pay attention to their thoughts, as it will have an effect on their emotions and on their behavior (This is called the ABC model by Aaron T Beck).
Also, it has been found that cementing positive activities, such as “counting one’s blessings”, remembering your strengths, and committing acts of kindness will eventually have a significant effect on your mood (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). However, to inflate our thoughts and beliefs on such a cosmic scale that to say our thoughts and feelings are the most powerful thing on earth, which therefore creates reality, is false.
The Power of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology
Barbara Fredrickson conducted research on positive emotions and did indeed find that a positive outlook on life not only expands your horizons, but keeps your eyes open to opportunities that you otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. Being positive in your outlook also helps you cope with difficult times, once again because you are more likely to find an opportunity in your surroundings that you wouldn’t have seen before, which leads to more positive emotions.
This upward spiral explains one aspect of Law of Attraction, which is that being more positive and optimistic makes you more open to do and see things that will lead you to do things you want in life.
But Isn’t That Similar to Positive Thinking?
Positive Psychology is not concerned with the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure, which is pretty much what the New Age movement is: The Ego is the center of the universe and you are defined by your desires and preferences. It treats the person as if their Ego and Self are one and the same.
The Self, which is what positive psychology practitioners try to help us tap into, is the core that absorbs itself in activities (e.g. altruistic and selfless ones), conversations, and experiences that is central to giving us a happy and meaningful life. It sees Positive Affirmations to be detrimental in this materialistic age because it fosters our worst human trait: narcissism.
The universe will bow to you and give you shiny cars and gorgeous lovers and if it doesn’t, it’s your fault for not thinking and obsessing about them hard enough! How can that be explained to a rape victim or the unfortunate events that took place on 9/11? What about the person who gets bullied everyday? The abused? They caused this too?
Positive psychology teaches us that even though we have our selfish desires, we are so much more than that. Self-actualization in positive psychology is an awakening of the self that increases intimacy with others. It doesn’t remove struggle, but it increases our desire to devote ourselves to living in the present moment in a balanced way.
Positive Psychology Promotes Balanced Thinking
Therein lies the true difference between positive psychology and positive thinking. It defines healthy thinking as balanced thinking because it does not fragment our thoughts and ignore it, it integrates them into a holistic form that allows us to see things more realistically, with a healthy and positive attitude.
The cliché of “take the good with the bad” rings true in the field, as the suppression of negativity, or any other emotional content, will not make it disappear but it will ferment in your subconscious until it’s released in one way or the other.
Positive psychology is part of the academic field of psychology, which has a strong academic foundation and credibility. Research shows that people are not encouraged by black and white thinking (e.g. “I will succeed or it is my fault”) on a long-term basis, but on regularly practicing more positive emotions. When we attach our values to that kind of thought process, it helps us identify emotional and mental factors that will help generate the most happiness, live moment to moment, and achieve a greater sense of liberation.
Kenwilber.com – blog. (2007, March). The Secret: The Spirituality of Narcissism. Retrieved from http://www.kenwilber.com/blog/show/238
Centre for Confidence and Well-Being. (2006). Positive Psychology Resources, Positive Psychology, Overview. Retrieved from http://www.centreforconfidence.co.uk/pp/overview.php?p=c2lkPTEmdGlkPTAmaWQ9NDQ=
Dawe, T. J. (2011). Positive Thinking Won’t Save Us – In Fact, It Might Kill Us. Retrieved from http://www.beamsandstruts.com/articles/item/293-brightsided-integral
Ehrenreich, B. (2010, May). Barbara Ehrenreich: Why Forced Positive Thinking Is a Total Crock | Alternet. Retrieved from http://www.alternet.org/story/146940/barbara_ehrenreich%3A_why_forced_positive_thinking_is_a_total_crock
Tillier, J. (2012, June). Positive psychology. Retrieved from http://www.positivedisintegration.com/positivepsychology.htm