Belief in the power of positive thinking runs so deep here in America, it’s practically in our DNA. Beginning with mid-century advice classics such as Dale Carnegie's "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" and Norman Vincent Peale's "The Power of Positive Thinking," and continuing in recent years with bestsellers such as Rhonda Byrne's "The Secret" or Deepak Chopra and Rudolph E. Tanzi's "Super Brain," positive thinking (or "positive psychology") has cemented itself not only as a fixture of popular wisdom but as a kind of social imperative, as well. An optimistic outlook, it is believed, leads to success and health, and ripples out to other people, while a pessimistic outlook leads to failure and malaise and leaches energy from those around us. Positive thinking has advocates in business leaders and athletes; scientists have argued that it improves physical and mental health as well as longevity. With such strong support for positivity, and such a wealth of evidence for its benefits, who would dare to speak against it?
Plenty of people, as a matter of fact: Like any belief endorsed by a staggering majority, positive thinking has its detractors. The authors of these books, which range from unconventional to outright mutinous, argue that positive thinking limits the range of our emotions, distracts us from a reality rife with problems and risks, and may even exacerbate the problems--namely, unhappiness--for which it’s touted as a solution. Moreover, these authors argue that what are often categorized as “negative thoughts”--embracing insecurity, allowing for doubt, etc.--may actually offer roundabout paths to contentment, confidence and security (even the ever-lovable Bob Knight agrees). Read on for why it's worth it to suspend our smiley faces once in a while.