We are programmed by a strong desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain. This is so deep rooted in our subconscious that it motivates pretty much everything that we do. Recently, there has been a movement towards positive thinking as a way of overcoming our challenges, and dispelling negative feelings.

However, despite the thousands of dollars spent on weekend retreats, classes, books and self-help DVDs on how to banish pain through thinking positively, bad things continue to happen. Spouses cheat, jobs are lost, earthquakes happen, illnesses appear, and life goes on being a mixture of good days and bad days.

With the constant drive to simply think it all positive, it may be important to step back and consider what a negative experience really represents. For many people the challenges that they face turn out to be a great opportunity for learning or growing when they reflect. We learn our most valuable life lessons through adversity, and this is how we grow.

Negative experiences, or those perceived to be negative at the time, can also trigger a complete shift in the way we think or view the world. Spiritual growth often occurs after tragedies, traumatic events and life changing experiences. In addition, the individual working through the hardship may discover new talents, inner strengths and abilities and that they did not know they possessed. We are at our finest when we are challenged- do you remember being resourceful, or strong, or completely focused on the issue in the moment? We find out who we are when we are in a crisis.

With All This Positive Thinking, Why Are We So Depressed?

Knowing that positive thinking is the answer to every one of life's problems may, in fact, be the weakness in the strategy. If you believe that you can think away all the negative issues, then how to you account for those events in your life that are not positive? Do you ask yourself if you are perhaps not as successful as you should be with the positive thinking training? Do you feel like an unsuccessful person?

Many people that follow the positive thinking teachings and self-help programs find that when the program is not effective the result is an increasing sense of failure and depression. After all, the latest self-help guru is busy telling you how, if you just follow his or her simple formula, your life will be fantastic all the time. If we do not achieve that level of bliss, it must be our failure. Add to that the constant messages from society about what we should wear, weigh, eat, want or dream and you have the perfect recipe for despondency and depression. With the ever increasing number of people on medication for depression, the results of this type of thinking are all too evident.

Is There A Better Way?

Instead of looking outside of ourselves for something or someone to make us happy, many of the ancient texts and scriptures tell us to look inside for our own personal meaning and happiness. Being able to learn to listen to our own internal guidance and meaning, is the first step on the journey of being able to make changes and accept ourselves for who we really are.

Discovering why we engage in the negative behaviours that fashion our day is also an important part of our own personal development. Some of the behaviours may be learned behaviour from childhood. These may include bullying, being critical, spreading rumours and gossip or constantly being the victim in our interactions with others. Other traits could be self criticism, self-harm, addictions and so on. Being able to see these for what they are and being able to start to make changes in the way we perceive ourselves and others will allow us to shed the pain. This can be very challenging and, as these behaviours may be masking deeper pain, but if you do start to look into your past and work through it, you will be on a highly rewarding path. This takes great personal courage and an understanding that only through this process can we really make the changes that will bring us the peace and happiness that we desperately seek.

Accepting yourself and learning to love others takes time, especially if you have experienced pain, rejection or hostility in your own life. It is definitely not something that can be done on a weekend retreat or through reading a book or taking a class. This type of work will take a lifetime but you should see improvements relatively quickly. It is important to surround yourself with safe and healthy people that will provide support and guidance as you find your way.

For some, this way of looking at change and moving forward in personal growth is more meaningful than simply relying on the power of positive thinking. While there are some people that use positive thinking with great results, they typically are not the ones that have not got to deal with deeper issues. Positive thinking does have its place, after all looking for the positives and being around those that are happy is far more pleasurable than hanging around a miserable pessimist.

Positive thinking programs do set up some people for failure. This is true for those people that need to completely change their lifestyle to actually make the changes they seek. Individuals that have a need for chemicals and professional help and support will not be successful just by thinking more positively. Individuals with drug addictions, alcoholism, obsessive compulsive behaviours or unhealthy habits such as smoking or overeating cannot just think away their problems. These people, just like everyone else, must start by examining why they are doing what they doing before any real, lasting changes can occur.

While positive thinking will help you to achieve some level of happiness, it is often not a long term authentic type of change. The better option for most people is to live each moment in the now and accept it as it is. This means you can be sad, joyful, challenged or delighted, all as it actually happens. You don't have to ignore what is actually happening in front of you times of adversity and challenge. Some of life's lessons are to be learned by going through the bad patch so that you appreciate the happy times when they arrive. Determine your own strengths and abilities to respond to all things in your world in a true and realistic fashion.

Staying positive and motivated is a real good concept, but allowing real feelings to surface and be experienced is part of what helps us to grow and develop personally and spiritually. Keep in mind that when life changes, things tend to improve and that behind every cloud there is the sun just waiting for the chance to shine again. Rejoice in times of happiness and learn through times of pain and challenge. Times of hardship are times of growth, plus it is a healthy, normal way to experience the world in which you live.

Written by Caroline Nettle.

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Author's Bio: 

Caroline Nettle is passionate about healing, recovery, and assisting others to grow. Her website Spiritual Growth Tools is the culmination of many years of seeking answers about her own health and well-being, and studying the human condition. She writes articles, is a healer and gives talks about subjects relating to spiritual growth and personal development.
Spiritual Growth Tools is an online resources dedicated to spiritual growth and personal development. It aims to provide resources and information to assist others on their journey to inner peace, vitality, and a happier, healthier lifestyle!
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