By Katie East
I recently saw a photo posted on Facebook that got me thinking. It was one of those inspirational memes that said “What’s the BEST that could happen?” My first response was to think what a cute reminder to look at your life more positively. After a minute more I realized how amazing life could be if we actually lived our lives with that outlook.
The meme is obviously a play on the phrase: “What’s the worst that could happen?” At its core, that phrase is still trying to get you to go out there and live your dreams. As in, why not try that thing you’ve wanted to do, what’s the worst that could happen?
I appreciate that common phrase and often do live by this credo. It plays to my analytical and cynical nature. But even more so it appeases my fears, paranoia and dread about the future.
As an artistic person, I experience an equal amount of narcissism and complete self-loathing; apparently, this is common. When you create “art,” you are putting yourself out there in every way possible. You want people to like you and what you’ve created but you also can’t worry if they will otherwise you’d never actually produce anything; it’s a vicious cycle.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” is something you constantly think to yourself when you’re an artist. It forces you to assess the risk of failing with the chance of succeeding. Still, it does immediately put you in a negative head space. It gets you thinking about the worst-case scenario and gives power to fear-based thinking.
Just switching the word “worst” with “best” changes this idea completely. It starts you off a step ahead. It’s even better than making a pro’s and con’s list. Your brain immediately goes to the best case scenario and dreams of what’s yet to come. If you naturally tend to be a worrier your brain will eventually slap you back down to reality and force some negative possibilities in your head. Still, it’s a great place to start.
For some realists out there the power of positive thinking may have a bad rap. We all know some millennials who were raised by hippies to believe that they can do anything they put their mind to; those people are the worst and rarely produce anything of value in our society. Everyone needs to endure hardships and struggle so they can appreciate when the good stuff happens.
That being said, realists (who are often just pessimists in disguise) can learn a lesson from those spoiled millennials. I know the whole positive thinking idea might sound silly to cynics, but anecdotally and scientifically it actually works.
We’ve all had one of those days where everything seems to go wrong. After the third bad thing happens before you’re even out of the house you start to wonder: “What’s next!?” And it always gets worse from there. Your day becomes the plot of that children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
On days like those, it usually becomes apparent to me that I’m part of the problem. I have to mentally force myself to turn my poor outlook on otherwise bad things will just keep happening.
Research backs this theory too. Babara Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina, tested three groups of people by showing them positive, negative or neutral images. Then, they were given a sheet of paper that said: “I would like to…” on 20 lines and were asked to write in responses.
Participants who saw images of fear and anger wrote the fewest responses while the ones who saw images of joy wrote down significantly more responses than even the neutral group. So basically, when you experience positive emotions you can see more possibilities in your life and to dream bigger.
I’m not saying that everyone should go out and live their lives in compliance with The Secret. I just see the value in positive thinking and realize the need for it in our high-stress society. So for me, I’m going to start small. The next time I’m contemplating my future or laying out some life goals I’m going to ask myself: “What’s the BEST that could happen?”