In the world of counseling, countless theories, strategies, and skills have been developed and are continuing to be developed to help people reduce their stress and live more fully. Positive Psychology in particular has highlighted having a Positive Mindset and Positive Thinking as a way of achieving this goal. Positive Thinking is a powerful skill in managing stress and improving our mental health, and it can be more than a psychological tool for stress reduction. Positive Thinking can deepen our faith and connection with God when we incorporate it with a common practice we already strive to do in Church, living with humility. Part of practicing humility is learning to have an accurate view of ourselves. This involves honest self-appraisal and understanding who we are. From this honest self-reflection can we form a humble positive thinking that can be more than simple stress relief. First, let’s take a look at what practicing positive thinking looks like and how we can take it a step further by integrating it into our spiritual meditations with God.
Practicing Positive Thinking
Positive Thinking can be generally defined as actively choosing to see the ‘bright side’ of a situation and expecting positive results. Here are some examples:
- “I did the best that I could.”
- “The job interview didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, but at least I learned what to do differently next time.”
- “I’m glad that I had the skills and knowledge to take care of ____.”
- “It’s going to be tough, but it’s going to turn out fine.”
- “I’m going to do the best I can, so I know that I’ll be ok in the future.”
So if we simply think more positively, will this lead to a happier life? If we try to view life optimistically, can we truly feel less stressed? The simple answer to these questions is surprisingly yes! Studies have suggested that positive thinkers are healthier, less stressed, and have an overall greater well-being (Cherry, 2017A).
A positive mindset is choosing to view your circumstances, other people, yourself, and your abilities in a positive light. However, having a positive mindset and attitude is more than blind positivity. Choosing to view things in a positive light does not mean we avoid or ignore the areas that we need to grow and improve. Positive thinking is not merely finding ‘silver linings’ or ‘magical thinking’ such as I do not have to do anything and things will be fine. Good and effective positive thinking leads us into a space where we reaffirm the skills/ability to handle our current problems and reflect on areas we need to grow to tackle these problems. This is the space where humility can speak to our positive thinking and form a more robust and enduring positive mindset.
Integrating Positive Thinking with Humility
Humility can be defined in many ways and has many dimensions, but to put it simply we can think of humility in these three ways (McMinn, 2017):
Views self accurately (neither too high nor too low)
- Considers the other and not just oneself
- Is teachable; is open to the possibility of being wrong
The first definition of humility can be what informs our positive thinking of self. Viewing ourselves accurately means not inflating ourselves too high or deflating ourselves too low. Humility can keep our positive thinking from veering into magical thinking that nothing bad will ever happen to us or that regardless of my ability I will always succeed. Humility can generate true positive thinking that can keep us from veering into self-deprecation and self-hatred.
In essence, our pursuit to be like Christ is partly a pursuit for humility. “He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Phil. 2:7). There is no greater picture of humility than Jesus Christ. I could pull so many examples when Jesus displays and teaches humility, and we know that the way Jesus wanted us the Church to live was a humble and gracious path.
As we strive for humility, positive thinking can be a way of connecting with an accurate view of ourselves. Namely, by reminding us that we are a broken people yet so deeply loved:
“At the heart of Christian anthropology is the paradox that we are of immense value – created in the image of God, and loved so deeply that God refuses to leave us alone in our struggles – and simultaneously broken, twisted, distorted by the brokenness of all creation.” (McMinn, 2017)
We are indeed a broken people in need of redemption, but that does not supersede the overwhelming love of God and His care for us. When we see ourselves in a positive light through positive thinking, we are not ignoring the parts that we must improve and grow. We are practicing having an accurate view of ourselves and recognizing the gifts/blessings we have received from God. We are affirming the good work God has done and will do within us (highlighting the positive outlook/optimistic thinking) and how He has made us.
I want to challenge us and the Church to see the practice of positive thinking not simply as a tool to help with stress and pursue happiness. Let’s expand our understanding of positive thinking as a practice of humility to further connect us with God and the wonderful works within us.
-Daniel Pak – Learn about working with Daniel here!
- Cherry, K. (2017A). The benefits of positive thinking for body and mind. Very Well Mind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/benefits-of-positive-thinking-2794767
- McMinn, Mark R. “Humility.” The Science of Virtue: Why Positive Psychology Matters to the Church, Brazos Press, a Division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, MI, 2017.