Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

 

We're really good at being positive in America.

We project it. We inject it.

We express it in order to impress just about everyone.

We're the most positive country in the world. After all, we've patented a dream.

Ours is the land of positivity. That's something we're positive about.

We believe in ourselves and in the fact that things are going be not merely great, but actually awesome.

How much of this, however, is self-delusion?

This slightly dry thought emerges from new research performed by psychologists from New York University, the University of Virginia and the University of Hamburg.

These brains suggest all that positive reinforcement you give yourself, all those fantasies of success and glory, might be very bad for you indeed.

Oh, it might be that positive thinking works well in the short term. It's the long term you have to worry about.

Here's how the researchers put it: "Positive fantasies predicted more depressive symptoms when measured longitudinally."

They went further.

The academics said that their results "add to existing research on the problematic effects of positive fantasies on performance by suggesting that indulging in positive fantasies predicts problems in mental health."

They worry particularly about the self-help industry.

You know, those large-eyed people with stunningly white teeth who leap onto the stage at events and tell you that if you follow their simple 62 steps, you too will have enough money to have eyes as large as theirs and teeth just as white.

Instead, researcher Gabrielle Oettingen sniffed: "The modern era is marked by a push for ever-positive thinking, and the self-help market fueled by a reliance on such positive thinking is a $9.6 billion industry that continues to grow. Our findings raise questions of how costly this market may be for people's long-term well-being and for society as a whole."

You mean that not everyone who signs up for a Tony Robbins seminar ends up rich and happy? How can this be?

The work was based on several studies that looked at links between positive fantasies and depression in children and college students.

The researchers found a consistent pattern: In the short-term, positivity was associated with less depression. Over the months, however, greater depression set in.

One of their studies points to a reason for this.

Students who had significant positive fantasies reduced their effort. It's as if they believed their success had already happened. So why bother trying?

This isn't to suggest that there's a simple causation between positive fantasies and increased depression. The researchers prefer to think of it as a risk factor.

There's one thing we do know about humans, however. We're really, really good at fooling ourselves.

I wouldn't for a moment suggest that, say, Donald Trump fools himself into thinking he's the richest, smartest and most handsome man in the world.

However, we lesser mortals can be tempted to tell ourselves not only that everything is going to be alright, but that it's going to be quite spectacularly, yes, awesome.

Sometimes it's better not to look too far ahead or make-believe too many exalted things. Sometimes, it's better to bathe in what is good and tangible.

One reason for this is that, if you ever actually achieve your fantasies, you might just find that they don't feel quite so fantastic after all.

Published on: Jan 31, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.