My friend Erica has a nifty blog post about positive thinking, believing that you are lucky, that sort of thing, and the real effects it has on those people's lives. Erica's big finish:
So we all (reluctantly) know that reality is a function of perception. Positive people experience a positive reality. Negative people experience a negative reality. Positive people are like Pete Best, eagerly telling you that getting kicked out of the Beatles was the best thing that could have happened to them. Negative people are sad sacks, rewriting memory into the darkest possible counterfactual interpretation, humorless, inconsolable.
Ok, reality is perception, ho hum, we say. Ho and hum.
But what if instead, it’s not that positive people perceive that they’re having a better time; they’re actually having a better time. They’re findin’ the money. They’re meetin’ the people. They’re livin’ in a magical world of wonder and experience.
I have spent years in lucky-mode. Not as much right now, but for a while I actively believed that I was lucky. It made me try unlikely things, like applying for jobs I was not qualified for, and chatting up interesting strangers. It was great. There are few greater feelings than the feeling that you are living a charmed life.
It's funny though, when you start to talk up the power of a positive attitude, you get plenty of support, but also a lot of resistance. People remind you frequently that there are people out there whose problems will not be fixed by a positive attitude. Abusive relationships, poverty war. Serious stuff.
And yes, sure, that's true, but if you are reading this blog post you have access to a computer and spare time, so you are doing okay on some fronts, and for you, a positive attitude makes a HUGE difference. Let me use Erica's example of Pete Best. Yes, did you know that Ringo was not the Beatles first drummer? Imagine that was you, and let's also imagine that you are equal in skill to Ringo (I love Ringo, but that's a reachable bar). Can you honestly say you wouldn't cringe a little bit every time you saw a best bands/albums/songs ever list with the band you were kicked out of at the top? Would you spend the rest of your life either saying or fighting the urge to say, "that could have been me, you know."
I don't know how the rest of Pete Best's life went, but it sounds like he chose cheerfulness. And yes, that is a choice. You can't control everything (and you'd suck at it if you could), and when it's time to be sad, be sad, but to act like you don't have a choice in the matter is to ignore all the real but arbitrary emotional choices you are already making.