The Tyranny of Positive Psychology

· October 29, 2016

Recently, certain phrases have become popular that are supposed to be motivational, but are often no more than publicity slogans. Instead of helping, they often lead us to blame ourselves for our problems. This is the tyranny of positive psychology, specifically the style called coaching.

Coaching is not psychology, and you don’t need to be a psychologist to be a coach. This trend comes from the field of advertising, and as the name indicates, a coach is like a personal trainer, a motivator who is supposed to help you maximize your abilities, but not to treat your low self-esteem.

Positive psychology is not simply a series of statements meant to increase morale. It’s intended to teach us to live life in a more positive way, but without denying the existence of negativity. 

Even so, some people think coaching and positive psychology are the same thing, utilizing expressions that, if taken literally, become tyrannous, because they do nothing but momentarily cover up the issue. Here are few examples of these phrases and how positive psychology would view them:

“Being a tyrant is not to be, but to cease to be, and to make everyone else cease to be.”

-Francisco de Quevedo-

Don’t complain

Don’t complain, life is just peachy if you want it to be. If you wake up with a smile everything will go well, because obviously, everything going well is a decision that you have absolute control over. If you think this way, the power of your mind will attract everything positive and repel the all the negativity and toxicity that stands in your way. Strong people never complain. You don’t want to seem weak…or human!

You can encounter this example, which might seem extreme, very easily. In the context of authentic positive psychology, it would be better to say “try not to settle for complaining.” Not settling for complaining allows you to admit the existence of negativity, which gives you the opportunity to try and find a solution. This is far from getting carried away and pretending that the problem doesn’t exist.


We’ve all had experiences that have bothered us or hurt us, but that we were able to fix. If it’s in your hands to recognize the problem and eliminate it from your life, you have no reason to put up with it just because you want to maintain the image of constant happiness. The most important thing is to be happy, and sometimes in order to do this, you have to fight against negativity, and even sometimes express it.

man on a bike with umbrella

Use humor and love in the face of other people’s negativity

If your partner is in a bad mood, kiss them and tell them jokes. It’s your duty to put up with others with a happy face; you don’t want to ruin their day. They can’t ruin your day because you’re always happy. Remember that if you put on a smile, everything will magically be fixed.

Clearly, this affirmation is telling you to be submissive to others, and that your negative emotions should be silenced. It’s telling you that your needs are not your priority, because the other person is more important. This isn’t true; the most important thing should always be yourself. Loving yourself and being able to express your feelings to others is important, as long as it doesn’t become a habit.

“Happiness is inward, and not outward; and so, it does not depend on what we have, but on what we are.”

-Henry Van Dyke-

Expressing your feelings to others, whether they’re good or bad, is very important. Being assertive about this doesn’t turn you into a whiner. Nobody should take away your right to be yourself, during both good times and bad times.

Love others unconditionally

When somebody does something bad, it’s because they didn’t know better, or because their inner child was playing a trick on them. Forgive everything without asking for anything in return, because humans are purely impulsive. They’re not rational, and therefore you shouldn’t get upset if they act like they’re above you or take advantage of you. Don’t misunderstand.

In reality, humans are rational and act intentionally most of the time. Even though it’s true that they don’t always hurt you on purpose, it’s up to you to evaluate whether they’re manipulating you, or if they were just careless and didn’t mean it. Follow your instincts and recognize the people who really love you, and those who want to take advantage of you. Remember that wolves can dress like lambs, but that doesn’t make them any less of a wolf.

happy girl

True positive psychology

True positive psychology won’t make you submissive or make you feel guilty. Rather, it will bolster your strengths in the face of adversity. It doesn’t deny that problems exist, but it helps you see them and face them from a different point of view, one more geared toward well-being.

Positive psychology doesn’t try to reduce the difficulty in your life or dominate it with simple slogans. It aims to admit that life is difficult, but how difficult it is depends on the point of view you use to face it. Or, as one famous American writer would say:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

-Hunter S. Thompson-

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