One of the problems with the positive thinking literature is its obsession with cheerfulness and enthusiasm, which often translates into acting cheerful or enthusiastic, which often translates into being phony. And being phony doesn’t feel good. That's one way "trying to be positive" short-circuits itself.
But cheerfulness and enthusiasm are not the only two positive or worthwhile emotions. Many other emotions are superior, especially around other people. It can be annoying for other people when you are acting cheerful and enthusiastic when they don’t feel that way at all. Especially if they suspect you're faking it.
But nobody would be annoyed if you were cultivating the feeling of affection or kindness. Those are also positive emotions. And they focus your attention outside yourself.
Another good emotion to aim for is calmness. Another is a feeling of determination.
Once you know what emotion you’re trying to cultivate, it will influence what you do. When you’re aiming for calmness, for example, you will probably change your posture a little, and maybe change the way you breathe. You might take deep breaths more often. You'll speak differently. Trying to cultivate calmness might change the way you're thinking and the way you treat people. And the result will be: You’ll feel more calm and relaxed.
Whatever emotion you cultivate influences you. Most of us want to be "a more positive person." And that's admirable. It would make the world a better place. It would make us personally happier. But let's do it in a way that feels good inside. And let's do it in a way that helps others feel good too. Think about the possible positive emotions, and choose to cultivate the ones you really like. W. Clement Stone liked enthusiasm and showed us how to cultivate it. Napoleon Hill liked cheerfulness and showed us how to cultivate it. What emotions do you like?
Adam Khan is the author of Self-Reliance, Translated and Principles For Personal Growth. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.