I’ve got an app on my desktop that helpfully shows me little philosophical proverbs and quotes, every day. It’s been very good in the recent past but has crossed the line lately by outputting one-liners like this…

“Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and start being positive about what could go right,”

Author – Unknown.

As respectable stoic I disapprove of and would ask everyone to ignore ‘happy-clappy, you can do it,’ nonsense such as this because we have no need of philosophical pornography.

Whilst well intentioned and undoubtedly sincere, trippy one-liners that are exuberantly positive contribute endlessly to the burden of mental health difficulties that are endemic in the developed nations of the west.

Stoics have no need of hope, none at all, hope is the false promise of a better future that does not and cannot exist without preparation. Hope lifts you higher only be dashed time after time on the rocks of fate. Too much hope is just as bad a thing as being unduly pessimistic, one state we label as ‘positive, the other ‘negative’ when in reality neither are pleasant or useful, both states lack any virtue.

Hope is an attachment to a desire projected into the future, whilst pessimism robs a man of his will to act for his own betterment.

The good stoic has no need of hope because he or she can study their own actions and the rationalise the most likely or reasonable effects that may come from them.

Negative Visualisation.

Premedito Malorum, the premonition of evils.

If the results are likely to be beneficial then all is well, we have no need of hope. If the results are likely to be detrimental then we simply ‘meditate,’ in the stoic tradition of thinking deeply on the issue at hand (in this case, where things may go wrong) and devise a variety of strategies to cope with the most likely outcome of our predicaments so that we may mitigate them or avert them entirely. Once again we have no need of hope.

“…nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation.”


Picture this you are going on a long journey, it’s important that you get to your destination on time, so what do you do?

Do you decide to leave early, catch an earlier bus, keep some extra money handy just in case the bus breaks down and you need to call a taxi? If you do so then congratulations you’ve just engaged in the Stoic art of negative visualisation, and as a result, you have a plan to avert or mitigate any unexpected events that might come along on the day.

“Difficulties are things that show a person what they are.”


Hope is a tyrant that we can be free of immediately by recognising that which is in our power and that which isn’t.

If there’s something we can do to change the outcome for the better then we should do it, if there’s nothing we can do then we should not worry, stress or be anxious about it. Peace of mind is more important than any of the supposed ‘benefits.’ of positive thinking.

‘It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.’


One thought on “The Tyranny of Positive Thinking”

  1. “To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities—I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not—that one endures.”

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