Positive thinking in a terrible job situation

It’s one thing to make the best of a bad workplace, but it’s quite another to engage in a sort of forced mode of positive thinking as a response to a terrible job situation. In a piece published on AlterNet, Alexander Kjerulf examines “5 Ways Positive Thinking Makes You Miserable at Work”:

1. “Faking emotions at work is stressful”

2. “Positive thinking makes things even worse for people who are unhappy at work”

3. “Negative emotions are a natural part of work”

4. “Positive thinking can contribute to quelling dissent and ignoring problems in the workplace”

5. “Trying to force yourself to be positive, makes you unhappy”

He offers extended explanations for each of these points. I recommend the full article to anyone who wants to understand more of the nuances between relentlessly negative and relentlessly positive attitudes at work.

While endorsing the idea that people can change their “mood and outlook through conscious effort,” Kjerulf takes on the notion “that you can always change your thinking in any situation, and that external circumstances don’t matter,” adding that “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.” He also does a nice job of distinguishing positive thinking from the field of positive psychology, the latter of which he generally endorses.

Related posts

If this general topic interests you, then these two earlier blog posts may be worth a look:

Dealing with a bad workplace: Getting to tolerance (2014) — “What do I mean by ‘getting to tolerance’? It means being able to deal with the undesirable aspects of your workplace without them constantly taking you down a notch, or at least bouncing back after a bad day there. It means being able to do your job well, perhaps even with some enthusiasm and satisfaction, despite the negative aspects of your work environment. It means not taking the bad parts of work home with you every day. It also means being able to develop and weigh future options in a constructive and hopeful way.”

Beyond happiness: Founder of positive psychology movement expands his vision (2011) — “Perhaps the most articulate critic of the ‘happiness movement’ in America has been Barbara Ehrenreich, political and social critic extraordinaire, who took happy talk to task in her 2009 book, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. In a sub-chapter titled ‘Managing Despair,’ Ehrenreich excoriates corporate use of motivational speakers and team-building exercises to “inspire” workers in the midst of layoffs and pay & benefit cuts….”

2 responses

  1. This post struck a chord with me! I had a few years where it seemed like I was getting hit from all sides. I was taking care of an ailing parent with dementia and at work dealing with a bullying situation. One thing I got so tired of hearing was “Why don’t you just…(fill in the blank with something painfully obvious)?”. For example, “Why don’t you just get your family to help with your mother?” or “Why don’t you just ignore the bully? or “Why don’t you just choose to be happy?”. This was said by people who sincerely meant to help. They just didn’t get how condescending they were!!

  2. Thanks for this post, Dave. I look forward to reading the full essay. Perhaps this is where ‘detachment’ can come into play. I don’t think you need to pretend to be happy if you are detaching. Detaching allows you to distance yourself from the bully … it is a survival mechanism but certainly a different one than attempting to be positive. But I know that detaching is really difficult because human beings influence each other and I, for one, find it so hard to detach from someone who I interact with daily.

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