September 15, 2014

The Positive Life Challenge

The reason for coming up with this challenge is fairly simple. I was looking into the scandal with Victoria Osteen, as described at this link, and as I researched a bit on the benefits of positive in life, I found that there is scientific evidence that demonstrates how living with a positive attitude really is a very good approach to life. I have generally lumped the emphasis on the positive and the "Word of Faith Movement" together and there were usually obvious contradictions with scripture that immediately had turned me off. After looking a bit more into this subject, however, I've come to see the emphasis on the positive as very important and desirable, when taken in a biblically-sound framework. There are a number of points I had studied earlier that seem to come together in this subject and, if you are interested, you can take on the challenge along with me to become more positive in life. This will be a process for me and I will no doubt continue to adjust the precepts and the ideas in this challenge as I learn more. I will explain why I believe the following points are a good beginning. I also want to emphasize that these things can be put into practice today in anyone's life with the understanding that the ultimate basis of a meaningfully positive and optimistic outlook is knowing God.

Caveat: What the Positive Life Challenge is Not

I'd like to first draw a clear distinction between being positive and optimistic versus a presumptuous expectation to be happy, healthy and prosperous in life. The former is something that the scriptures admonish us to do. Jesus, our example, was described as a man of sorrows who suffered and endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him. Though our circumstances can be difficult circumstantially our outlook can always be positive spiritually. The latter is something that the Bible does not promise us. We are not promised unequivocal emotional happiness, health and prosperity in this life in scripture. The greatest good is simply to know God.

The Positive Life Challenge

1. Practice the presence of God each day.

2. Use at least 3x more positive speech than negative.

3. Do justice and love mercy.

I'd like to emphasize that this is not meant to be a formula of some kind or a legalistic set of practices. These are just some principles and guidelines that I wish to aim for in my own life and I believe they could be helpful for others as well. Like a good marriage, it goes without saying that the love and the personal relationship are of utmost importance, while learning helpful principles about marriage also helps. Ultimately, the emphasis should be on the personal aspects of life, not just the principles.

No matter what your basic beliefs are, there is evidence that we are all under the influence of a "negativity bias" wherein we humans are wired to remember the negative much more than the positive in life. This can effect us, and often does, based on experiences as far back as from childhood. This is just one reason why we should probably attempt to achieve a "positivity bias" in our lives.

Practice the presence of God each day

When I explained some of the scientific discoveries I had found about the benefits of positivity, such as the 3x positivity principle, my wife said, “That's only possible if you are in God's presence all day. If you aren't in God's presence, you will only be faking the positivity.” I agree with her opinion. According to my own experiences, there really needs to be a fount of positive spiritual power in order to truly live out the principles described. And while it is possible for someone to have a certain level of wisdom without knowing God, being proactive on issues of justice and ethics while having a relativist view and without having a logical basis and an anchor for your ethics is not practically possible in my opinion. If you would like to discuss or debate this subject, I would be open to it at my blog. In my opinion, you need both the power and the perspective, both the fount and the foundation as a basis for a truly positive life.

I had written an article on practicing the presence of God each day for a  “how to” post for E-How, linked here. I may post the original article at this blog some day. But for now, you can see that link for practical steps. There are indeed practical ways in which we can indeed learn to experience God''s presence more so than not, though it does in reality take a lot of practice and self discipline. In my opinion, we need a fount of power in addition to a foundation of truth in order to be truly positive in life.
Use at least 3x more positive speech than negative.

There needs to be an explanation about what “positive” and “negative” mean in this context. An uplifting affirmation and a word of encouragement are both considered positive, while constructive criticism, even though it is based on a positive motive, may be seen as “negative” content. The main idea is to experience and promote three times the positive content in life than negative content. While knowing about important “negative news” is important, it's important to balance this type of content in life with positive content. Studies by Barbara Frederickson reveal a powerful impact when there is a 3 to 1 ratio of the positive and negative in our lives, as noted in her book: Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life
If you are a Christian, it may be interesting to note that the word "love" is mentioned about three times more than the word "hate" in the Bible. According to E-Sword Bible software. The word "love" is noted in 281 verses and the word "hate" is noted in 85 verses in the King James version. And the word "heaven" is mentioned about ten times more than the word "hell." The word "heaven" is noted 551 times and the word "hell" is mentioned in 54 verses. The Bible is a positive book (actually a book of many books). It is at least three times more positive than negative. The word "right" is mentioned 332 times in scripture, while "wrong" is mentioned just 24 times. That's 14 times more positivity. The word "faith" is very closely associated with the word "positive" and the word "faith" is mentioned in 231 verses while the word "doubt" is mentioned in only 13 verses. So faith is mentioned about 20 more times than doubt. Peace is mentioned in 400 verses, while trouble is mentioned 109 times. You get the idea.
Do justice and love mercy.

I've added this third point because I find it to be an important addition to a balanced positive life. While it is very good and healthy to have happy emotions and positive thoughts, there should be action behind the positive words and emotions. A truly positive life is one that engages the world. There are philosophical and spiritual reasons why positive emotions and self-centered personal pleasure are not enough. 

First, if we aim to live life just for ourselves and our own pleasures, then this will ultimately decrease our net-pleasure and net-positivity in the long run. The reason is because there is a paradoxical relationship between living for ourselves and becoming emotionally and spiritually fulfilled. This was one of my main criticisms of the implied approach offered by John Piper and the Osteens, as noted here. Scriptures such as Micah 6.8 clearly outline that we are to not be mainly focused on our own pleasures to the point where we neglect our social responsibility: "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." The final thought is also important: to walk with God in a sense of humility.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ outlined many of life's subtle paradoxes. One of them is the paradox that we find by losing: "He that finds his life shall lose it, and he that loses his life for my sake shall find it." (Matthew 10:39). Another is that we receive by giving:  "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back." (Luke 6:38). There are many of these paradoxes.

The second reason I believe it is important to reach out to others is because the scriptures outline that there is a certain amount of social responsibility that comes with being a follower of Christ. It is not that we are "under the law" but, rather, out of gratitude for what Christ has done for us there should likely be a heartfelt desire to serve God and others simply out of an overflowing grateful heart, simply as a response to God's great redemption. The challenge in scripture is to "overcome evil with good" and to "do justice and love mercy" in society. These admonitions are proactive and diametrically opposed to a self-centered and sheltered lifestyle. 

There are many other ideas that relate to this theme, but I will to address them separately as I don't want this post to become too long. I would appreciate any constructive thoughts anyone wants to offer on this subject.

Tags: the basis of a truly positive life, positive life principles, the cult of the positive, philosophy,  foundation of a positive life, the secrets of a genuine positive life, Bible is positive, negativity bias, science of positivity, positivity ratio

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