One of the tools available to people trying to learn how to be happy – or how not to be unhappy – is self-help books, articles, podcasts, etc. Such resources can be very helpful. It is useful, however, to understand that humans don’t come in one size or flavor, and many self-help approaches work well for some and less so for others. At times, reasonable advice directed at the general population can actually have a negative effect on some people.
For example, there are many proponents of “positive thinking”. There are many benefits to practicing positive thinking, especially for people who habitually look for the worst-case scenario. There are some people, however, for whom practicing “positive thinking” can cause as many problems as it solves.
Some individuals are habitually harsh in their self-judgments and tend to think in extremes. This kind of person may hear “think positive!” and use that as a reason to criticize themselves any time they notice that they are having a “negative” thought. For such a person, the advice to think positive thoughts actually leads them to have many negative thoughts about themselves.
Another problem happens when people are led to believe that negative thoughts or feelings can harm them. Since our minds tend to focus on situations we perceive as dangerous, believing that negative thoughts are harmful can cause some people to become hyper-aware of random “negative” thoughts that would not normally bother them. This can create unnecessary anxiety – again, the opposite intended effect of positive thinking.
The point I am trying to make is that various techniques and approaches affect different people in different ways. Don’t assume that all self-help advice necessarily works equally well for everyone, even generally good advice from experts in psychology. If you try something and it doesn’t work for you, it may not be appropriate for you. A qualified mental health professional may be able to help you understand the difference between “I’m doing it wrong” and “It isn’t the best approach for me.”
Article Written By: Tod Fiste, LPC