Written by Swami Lego Ver, exclusively for Anxiety Culture. (The Swami is a “Spiritual Adviser” to the rich and famous.
He lives in Hollywood)

"Real" positive thinking

Once upon a time, people performed ritual sacrifices in an attempt to avert natural disasters. Nowadays, the most popular ritual for avoiding disasters is to accumulate money. Our ancestors didn't know when to stop spilling blood, as their gods never announced: "That's enough". Modern people can't stop accumulating money for a similar reason.

A conviction (or suspicion) that the world is essentially hostile probably underlies this behaviour. In which case, no amount of sacrifice or money will remove the underlying sense of insecurity. No burglar-alarm can make you feel safe, if you believe the neighbourhood is dangerous enough to require it.

Feeling safe requires an alteration of your belief-system to remove the archaic "programming" concerning the hostile/dangerous "nature" of things. The gimmick is to do this without offending your sense of "reality" (which might be difficult if you live in a war zone). In other words, you experimentally "stretch" your beliefs further towards "optimism" than you might normally allow.

Pessimists need not find this distasteful. It doesn't mean subscribing to rose-tinted stupidity. Cognitive dissonance can be avoided by viewing it as "nothing more" than a temporary experiment/gamble.

If letting go of pessimistic fears made us more susceptible to harm, we'd be in peril every time we went to sleep. There's no cause for physiological unease: optimism never undermines the biological fight-or-flight response when the latter is needed.

Two obvious things help with the gamble: i) reasonably convincing evidence that the universe is not essentially hostile towards you – eg you still exist; ii) reasonably convincing evidence that no metaphysical entity wishes to punish you for your moral failings – eg you still exist despite your laziness, selfishness, unkind thoughts, perverted lusts, etc.

There's a third, less obvious, thing. Feeling under attack from specific "enemies" (whether real or, say, phantoms created by the media) requires a different tactic: "forgiveness". No need to puke – it's just basic psychology: if you're hostile towards someone/something, your brain anticipates a hostile reaction – hence the fear of attack. "Forgiveness" removes this anticipation. No holier-than-thou sanctimony involved – it's for your benefit, not theirs.

Everyday external struggle (eg menial drudgery and scraping for money) gets confused with psychological struggle – ie the type internalised via masochistic social programming. The latter appears no more useful than blood-sacrifice in making the universe any safer, but it becomes a habit in our pessimistic culture. The belief behind the habit is that you are infinitely undeserving – that reward, ie happiness, will always be contingent upon the endurance of some unpleasant activity. As if you have to please some Authority (divine or otherwise) in order to demonstrate your "worthiness" on a regular basis (probably 9-5, Monday to Friday).

The problem with this way of thinking is that it never ends by itself. The implicit Authority never comes along to say: "That's enough struggle". And nobody of greater "authority" comes along to supersede the implicit Authority. But we have some impressive-looking certificates to establish our "authority". The implicit Authority was always a sham, a con-trick.