Affirmaholism: Positive Affirmation As Self-medication

Be addicted to staying positive if you absolutely must, but it comes at a cost.

Posted Nov 29, 2014

I have lots of empathy and some sympathy for people who are addicted to positive affirmation, empathy because I've been there, even for decades at a time, my sense of wellbeing so fragile that I had to ward off all potential perturbations to it.

Ultimately though, addiction to positivity damages wellbeing since it makes us so distortingly selective about what part of reality we take in, and in the process becoming systematic reality-deniers. It's a devil's bargain, like cigarettes, calming in the moment, damaging in the long run.

Staying positive is often touted as a virtue. I think it's more a form of self-medication, absolutely necessary for some rough lives but not something to lean into. If we can possibly afford to kick the positivity habit, it's better for our wellbeing both personally and collectively.

I have sympathy for the positivity-addicts who are truly suffering, people who really need to self-medicate. But lots of people who aren't suffering much, indulge in the positivity addiction because they can get away with it. The poor can't afford discouragement; the well off can afford to dismiss discouragement.

The well off should kick the habit. Society can only afford so much reality distortion. We should allocate the self-medication to those who need it most.

The trick to kicking affirmaholism is getting more agnostic about what's progress and what's a setback. Sometimes when we absorb disappointing news it feels like a setback when it's really progress, and visa versa, affirming news feeling like progress when it's actually a setback. The Tao says "Success is as dangerous as failure; hope is as hollow as fear." I like that.