The crucial Difference between ‘Positive Psychology’ and ‘Positive Thinking’

Here´s a dialogue I´ve gone through a lot of times lately – it goes a long the lines of this:

  • Friend: “Hey Nico, I´ve seen (on Facebook…) that you´re a student again. You´re at Penn, right?”
  • Nico: “Yep.”
  • Friend: “So what are doing?”
  • Nico: “I study positive psychology.”
  • Friend: “Oh yes, positive thinking. I really like that. You know, I´ve read … (substitute all kinds of self-help books by Joseph Murphy, Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Rhonda Byrne, … , Tony Robbins).
  • Nico: “Duh…”

So, I´m not going to deny that there are a lot of similarities in the subject matters of positive psychology and positive thinking. By way of example, both are concerned with cultivating optimism in individuals, since being optimistic (most of the time) is associated with an array of beneficial outcome variables. So where´s the difference, then?

Here I am, sitting in Jon Huntsman Hall at University of Pennsylvania, listening to some of the most widely-acclaimed psychologists of our time. And there are some sentences which I really hear a lot of the time. Here there are:

  • I was wrong.
  • I changed my mind.
  • I made a mistake.
  • I don´t know.
  • I´m not sure about…
  • We don´t know enough about…
  • We should really be careful to say…

I rest my case.

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