I don’t know how and when the idea of positive thinking first turned up… But some people insistently keep advocating that it always helps. They say that “positive thinking” heals!

Honestly, I’ve always been suspicious of the effect that positive thinking has on people’s lives. I mean, ”C’mon”, how come can we expect someone who has just lost their parent or a loved one to do so. Or, try to advocate this idea to an amputee soldier?

I should mention that I had a recent experience proving the usefulness of positive thinking. I’ll come to that shortly. Before that, I want to dwell on an article that I read the other day, called “The History of Positive Thinking”. The article underlined that Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, a preacher and pastor who popularized this idea said, “if you can change your attitude, you can change your life.” To me, it was pretty far-stretched. The article also said that he urged people to consciously train themselves to be optimistic and enthusiastic, to believe in themselves, to refuse to dwell on negative thoughts, and to visualize success. He also vigorously advocated forgiveness, gratitude, and building one’s character.

After he made that statement, the whole psychiatric community rushed to slam him, according to the article. His theories evoked a broad criticism from psychiatrists, who labeled his advice shallow, simplistic, and possibly dangerous. They believed that, ultimately, those who tried his methods would end up disillusioned and worse off than before. He was labeled a confidence man and a charlatan.

Last Sunday, I came across one of my friends whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. She looked a little bit skinnier to me. Actually, I never saw her so weak before. While we were talking, I didn’t want to bring it up. I didn’t want to offend or upset her in a way. However, during the course of our conversations she said; ” I’m sure you noticed that I look unusually meager. I got sick last summer, Cuneyt. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. That’s why I look like a zombie.”
I tried to offer some encouraging words, but she continued saying; “But you know what? I never noticed how beautiful life was… I mean, one realizes only in sickness what a blessing it is to lead a normal, healthy life, and how good it is to have a loving family. Unfortunately, people don’t notice how important those things are when they are healthy.”

Her words made me feel bad. You know, it is so sad to hear such words from someone you know. It made an impact on me and I confessed to her; “I don’t know what to say, but I feel obliged to say something to you. First of all… No… Never, never give up. I know how easy it is for me to say that, but don’t. I cannot figure out what I would do if I were you. However, I see you are beyond strong enough to cope with this evil disease.”

Just then she looked in my eyes. They were smiling. She held my hand and said; “My friend, you are so nice. But believe me, I’m used to it. I realized that I need to take everything in stride… These days, I try not to get angry. To stay cool and calm. And more importantly, I try to be positive. You won’t believe it, but it really helps.” Yes, it was she who made me mull over this idea so lengthily. And, look at the person who said that. She was on the brink of dying, but she advocated how great it is to become positive minded. If I were her, I would not care about anything or anybody. I’m dying, right? So who cares what’s happening to what or who?

Later during the conversation I learned that her boyfriend left her when he heard about her situation. She said it was not the illness but his act that struck her most at the time. Soon, she started living with her mom, “I was like a child again. I found my mom next to me.. She started clean my bed, as soon as my vomiting started. I caught her crying secretly a few times. She never made me feel like I was sick,” by this time she was sobbing, and I felt a tear drop close to the edge of my right eye. I turned my head and continued to listen. “She started going to the gym with me. Oh my god, I am so lucky to have such a great mom. She kept talking about the time when I would be done with this illness, and she coached me on how to deal with the sudden shivering and vomiting. Chemo was shaking my body, and I was watching myself in the mirror each night after she went to sleep. I never had a bald head earlier.” We were at a shopping mall in Queens and I noticed that people passing by enjoyed watching us. I suggested that we go somewhere to sit down, and continue to talk. After a while, I pictured myself earlier in the morning. I was full of energy then and thought it was Sunday and it would be my day. I was supposed to play soccer with friends, do a little shopping and have fun. But now… Goodness! How exhausted I felt. They say life is ever full of surprises. That surprise was not fun though. Good thing, she said she was recovering for last two months.

W. Clement Stone once said; “There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.“

I’m still a little confused over the effect of “positive thinking”. But, I believe I’ve started changing sides on this subject. I know positive thinking is not the Holy Grail. But it makes life more convenient. Maybe we should pull up some questions to find an approach. Does having a positive attitude affect the way we live? Or, does it help us communicate with others and create a warm-up in first time encounters? Or rather, is being negative affecting our fate? What do we earn or lose with or without being positive? I know my answers. How about you?