Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation by Gabriele Oettingen
I don’t know how many times I have listened to people in support groups declare that they have decided to apply positive thinking to their lives and then watched them crash and burn. People declare all kinds of objectives for their affirmations. They will lose weight. They will master their drug problem. They will control their anger. They will grow rich. Money will come to them without effort. They will find a millionaire and marry him. They will find a fabulous new job and leave all the cares of the old one behind them. Some goals are realistic. Others are simply fantastic.
Studies show that plain old positive thinking drags people into a depressive rut. Oettingen cites the example of her work examining the attitudes of East Germans versus West Germans. East Germans spend a lot of time thinking positively. They see themselves as rich, as coming into opportunities of a lifetime which change their life situation for the better. But they still end up at bars trying to drink their melancholy away, and they never get anywhere with these plans. West Germans set reasonable objectives, put in the work, and succeed. Even though their goals are less grandiose, they are happier than their former Communist counterparts.