Sounds like something Scrooge would say, right? Apparently we’re mistaken, according to an ancient Stoic philosophy and findings noted in an article I read in the Wall Street Journal a couple weeks ago.
The article was called “The Power of Negative Thinking.” Honestly I was first drawn to it because my boyfriend tends to have a pessimistic view when it comes to conflict, yet he’s very calm and successful at overcoming it. Little did I know that I was about to read about an ancient Stoic logic. The philosophy goes:
“Sometimes the best way to address an uncertain future is to focus not on the best-case scenario but on the worst…It is simply realism.”
It didn’t really start to make sense until writer Oliver Burkeman plays it out in the article. He notes an exercise that Albert Ellis, the NYC phychotherapist who “pioneered the negative path,” would make this clients do in order to overcome their fear of embarrassment. They had to ride the subway and say out loud each station they passed. Burkeman actually did it and found that his “overblown fears were cut down to size” when he wasn’t harrassed or attacked. People looked at him funny, but that was about it.
How does this apply to us and the holidays?
The Stoics called it “the premeditation of evils,” which apparently one-third of Americans instinctively use “defensive pessimism.“ Burkeman states the principle:
“Positive thinking…is the effort to convince yourself that things will turn out fine, which can reinforce the belief that it would be absolutely terrible if they didn’t.”
Well, that makes sense! If we are “realistic” and just accept the things we hate about the holidays instead of denying them or shoving them aside, it might relieve our anxieties. Seriously, what’s the worst thing that can happen if the food isn’t perfect or if siblings get in a fight?
“There are some facts that even the most powerful positive thinking can’t alter…The future really is uncertain, after all, and things really do go wrong as they go right.”
The most interesting part is when the tenet is applied to the corporate environment and setting goals. I wont’ go into that, but you should read on about “learning to accommodate feelings of uncertainty is not just the key to a more balanced life but often leads to prosperity as well.”
I hope this helps in some way if you’re stressed or anxious. I just tell myself to relax. There’s no reason to get wound up.
(Apologies for the stock photo…)