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The Cult of Positivity

In a recent Bloomberg Business article, Mark Ellwood confronts what he calls the "cult of positivity.” He titled his article “Trying to Stay Optimistic Is Doing More Harm Than Good.” The push to be upbeat in the workplace, as well as at home, has resulted in an experience he calls FONO. That's the fear of negative outlook:

You see it on Instagram, where the affective filter is always upbeat, usually followed by the hashtag #blessed. You might even recognize it in the boss who insists that colleagues start every Zoom meeting by sharing a piece of good news to help keep moods buoyant amid the gloom.

Think of this mindset as one that responds to all human anxiety with uncompromising optimism. It can be found in sentences that start with those negating words “At least,” which are followed by a suggestion that however bad you’re feeling, at least you’ve got plenty else that should offset it.

Ellwood explains the origin of this cult:

For the current generation, the origins of this emotional cure-all lie in the 1990s, when Martin Seligman, president of the American Psychological Association, suggested that pessimism is a learned behavior. Therefore, it both could and should be avoided.

That observation snowballed into bestsellers such as Rhonda Byrne’s, The Secret. It was popularized after Oprah Winfrey championed its ethos. That breakout bunkum bible was essentially built on claims that the power of positive thinking would provide whatever you want, be it a baby or a Mercedes-Benz.

Possible Preaching Angle:

The Bible alone is supremely honest and realistic. God tells us that we will have negative, sometimes devastating, experiences in life (John 16:33). However, Scripture also promises that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:38), that trouble refines us spiritually (2 Cor. 7:10; 1 Pet. 1:7), and that God works all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28).

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