The power of positive thinking?

Yesterday evening I was reading the chapter on happiness in Richard Wiseman’s book :59 seconds, which got me thinking.

Wiseman is Britain’s only professor for Public Understanding of Psychology and in his publications offers some interesting insights.

When writing about happiness, Wiseman says: Happiness makes people more sociable and altruistic, it increases how much they like themselves and others, it improves their ability to resolve conflict and it strengthens their immune system. The cumulative effect means that people have more satisfying and successful relationships, find especially fulfilling careers and live longer, healthier lives.

A no-brainer, you might say.

But how to achieve such a state of happiness and contentedness? Based on various studies, Wiseman says that the often cited power of positive thinking (Think positive!) is not the way to go about things. On the contrary, in fact, research suggests that suppression of negative thought is far more likely to increase, rather than decrease, misery.

In the mid 1980-s, a Harvard professor, Daniel Wegner came across the following Dostojevsky quote from Winter Notes on Summer Impressions: “Try to pose yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute”. When Wegener decided to put this to the test with a group of volunteers, telling them to sit alone in a room and NOT to think of Dostojevsky’s polar bear – and if the did so all the same to ring a bell –, this resulted in a cacophony of bells.

Which would indicate that Dostojevsky was onto something: The attempt to suppress certain thoughts makes people obsess on the very topic they are attempting to avoid.

Or to put it in my friend Didj’s words: People who curse a lot are more honest than those who do not. This would make Didj one of the most honest people I have ever known. Apart maybe from my uncle Pete in his former cussing glory (he has toned it down somewhat with advancing age. Pity, really).

So. I thought in that case, why not spend a post embracing negativity with gusto to flush out the system. To this ends I offer you 101 Annoying Things That Customers Say… (well, it is not going to be exactly one hundred and one, don’t worry)

When you have just finished the tidy up….
After you have gone to great lengths to explain how to prune a tree correctly
Customer just received your invoice and got on the phone to you straight away
There is an expert round every corner!
There is an expert round every corner!

And the list goes on…

Can you do the work exactly as you offered it, just only do the half of the Chestnut over the building, don’t bother with the Silver Maple, add in the Cottonwood and we will do the take away ourselves.

I hope you don’t mind that you may find some of  Archie’s (the customer’s massive 3 year old Great Dane) poop here and there in the garden. (It was chock-full)

Well if you can’t fell my three-year dead spruce, there are plenty of others out there who are willing to do so.

Yes, it’s fine. Just that one twig right up the top there, sticking out of the canopy bothers me. (We have just de-installed all the climbing gear out of the tree)

My gardner has done some of the pruning already.

My gardner said it would not be a problem to do that…

We need someone for tree protection on the building site tomorrow for seven o’clock.

I found a typo in your report.

The address on the invoice is not correct, can you please re-address it to this and resend it? (Invoice was sent one and a half months ago)

I bet you are not going to do that until you are sixty! (This is usually delivered by an unfit, overweight middle-aged person with a coffee cup in one hand and a cigarette in the other)

I bet you like bananas!

In my spare time I fell trees too, you know.

You’re not going to charge extra for that, are you?

I used to do exactly what you do – just without the ropes!

Oh, I thought you were going to remove more.

Can’t you remove that stem (half the tree!) to bring in more light

ROAR! Why are these dang arms so short? (Whoops, sorry, that one slipped in there, belongs in a different thread)

I had someone here who was going to fell the tree and take the firewood as payment.

On a roll here.

I could go on and on… also, I have spent the past twenty minutes not thinking about polar bears ONCE, so voilà, QED!

I must be happy!