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5 Ways Positive Thinking Makes You Miserable at Work

Being totally inauthentic doesn't really do much for the psyche, or the office.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/gulserinak1955

 
 
 
 

Some people take the pursuit of happiness too far:

One German IT company has come up with the perfect solution to problems in the workplace - it's made cheerfulness a contractual obligation. What's more, the CEO has declared that those who don't measure up to the prescribed level of jollity in the morning should stay at home until they cheer up.

The idea of positive thinking (and therefore banning negativity) is not new, but is affecting us now more than ever - at home and at work. And ironically, its effects are mostly negative. Yes, forced positive thinking makes us less happy.

Positive thinking is a poorly defined concept which at its most extreme says, that in every situation you can choose your own mood and your own reactions. No matter what happens to you, you can always choose a positive attitude.

"Fake it til you make it," they say, claiming that faking happiness actually makes you happier. Basically, if you don't feel happy every moment of your life, it's just your own damn fault for not trying hard enough.

Now, this idea is not completely unfounded. In many situations you can actually change your mood and outlook through conscious effort. Let's say you're stuck in traffic on your way to work. In a situation like that you can probably change your mindset and switch from being annoyed about the delay to a more positive interpretation of the situation. "Great, I have more time to listen to this interesting radio program" or whatever. Nothing wrong with that.

But the most fanatic proponents of positive thinking (especially fans of The Secret and similar pseudo-scientific nonsense) go much further. They claim that you can always change your thinking in any situation, and that external circumstances don't matter. No matter what situation you're in, they say, you can simply choose to be happy.

Tell that to someone who's seriously ill, who's just been fired or who is suffering from severe depression. Actually, you should never tell them that, because telling someone in a really rough life situation that they should think more positively is incredibly condescending and a terrible way to trivialize their pain.

You could say I positively hate positive thinking.

There is nothing wrong with the milder form of positive thinking, but the extreme version is bad for you in life and at work. Here are five ways positive thinking screws up our workplaces.

1: Faking emotions at work is stressful

In this fascinating TEDx speech, Danish researcher Mette Boll talks about an experiment she performed, in which grocery store employees were subjected to stressful situations on the job.

She found that the most stressful condition was not just having to deal with rude customers - the most stressful thing was to have to fake being positive as it happened.

She talks about biological authenticity and says that:

If you respond to an encounter with your systemic impulse, then there is no stress to your system...

If, however, you filter your response and you do what you're trained to do in a situation like that, (the customer is always right), then it's more stressful than anything else we could measure or detect in any of these scenarios.

So simply put, having to fake emotions you don't have is stressful. That sort of demolishes the whole "Fake it till you make it" idea.

2: Positive thinking makes things even worse for people who are unhappy at work

According to the extreme version of positive thinking, if you're unhappy at work, you've only got yourself to blame. It may be that your boss is a jerk, your coworkers bully you and the culture is completely toxic - you should just "have a positive attitude" and "make the best of it."