Why Looking on the Bright Side Can Be Bad Advice

Everywhere yFunny-Motivational-Speaker-Colette-Carlsonou look, you’ll find books, articles, and social media image quotes extolling the virtues of positive thinking. Heck, I’m constantly posting articles and blogs that encourage positivity. Yet, these “Be Happy” messages can be bad advice for some.  Call me Debbie Downer, but a recent study shows why.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, women have a larger anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain dubbed the worrywart center. It’s also why some women (okay, me at times) have more difficulty letting go of an emotional conversation, but I’ll save that for another blog. So, if you tend to be a woman who worries, being told to “look on the bright side” may be the wrong advice.

While a common tactic among positive thinkers is to reframe the meaning of a bad situation, this proved tricky for worry-prone women. In the study, women were shown a series of neutral and negative images. Some women were told a troubling image was coming up and they should try to think about it in a positive way. Yet this strategy created above-average anticipation of unpleasant images and also increased emotional arousal during the reappraisal task for worriers.

What does work? According to the research, a more helpful tactic is to take a detached, objective view of the situation. For instance, those who tend to worry could ask themselves, “How would I advise a friend facing this type of challenge?”

Personally, I find it’s also helpful to pick up the phone and vent to a girlfriend – one who truly listens with empathy and encouragement, rather than immediately telling you to look on the bright side.


Step into the Truth Booth, improve your life, and laugh along the way with funny motivational speaker Colette Carlson. How did she go from emotional coward and the Pizza Delivery’s favorite customer to #1 sales producer for sales legend Tom Hopkins and Brian Tracy, featured in Success Magazine, a 50 lb. weight loss, and inspiring audiences at Microsoft, Accenture, Pepsi, Boeing, and organizations worldwide? Visit her at http://www.ColetteCarlson.com or call 760-230-1212.

Colette founded Speak Your Truth, Inc. to share her success systems and inspire others to Think It! Speak It! Live It! Her tools and takeaways create authentic, long-lasting change in every aspect of your life. With a MA in human behavior, a successful business and 2 teenage daughters, Colette provides a unique combination of education, research, real-life experience, and heartfelt humor to motivate you with her high content programs. Improve your Communication Skills, Work-Life Balance, Sales, Leadership, Assertiveness, Negotiation…all wrapped in the genuine power of Speaking Your Truth.

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  1. I love this advice, Colette. I have often thought that there is value in looking at my situation as if it belonged to someone else, and then giving them advice. Thank you for putting this in words I can understand. I can't wait to share it.

  2. Thanks for this Colette.  And, you are the perfect girlfriend to listen to someone vent!  This is great advice. I hope I too can be that non-judgemental girlfriend to listen when my friends need to vent. 


  3. Makes total sense. AND – as one of those motivational speakers who focuses a LOT on positive psychology, I'm curious. It seems to me that the one variable that has some weight is the part where the participants are told in advance "a troubling image was coming up and they should try to think of it in a positive way." That seems like they are creating an advance image that carries anxiety with it – especially for people prone to worrying. If the participants were simply told, "You will see a variety of images. Your task is to view them in a positive way," would their responses be different? Not sure. Curious though.. Thanks for the provocative post, Colette!!!

  4. What a great way to get a little distance from a worry, Colette! And a Quote-A-Day calendar I read in a Nutritionist's bathroom has also helped me over the years: "Worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but it gets you nowhere.":)

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