There are so many gurus who talk about positive thinking. They teach that everything is essentially positive. You need to recognize that everything is great and rosy, if you don’t then you are not thinking positively, and you will not have the happy life that you desire. This is taken even a step further, that if you don’t see something as positive, you make it become negative; you are in control and responsible for all the negativity in your life.

Let’s be real, I know many positive people who have had extreme negative situations befall them. One personal example was my late father; he was an extremely positive person. He always saw the good in everything he had, and it was the best—his family, his neighbors, his house—everything was the best. Yet he was stricken by a neuro-degenerative illness in his fifties and deteriorated for 5 years until his untimely passing.

While my dad went through this terrible illness, he always a great attitude; he never complained. He lived everyday fully, refusing to let his illness to hold him back from living his life to the fullest. He kept to his values, he did everything he wanted to, he really turned lemon into lemonade in every imaginable way. Nevertheless, his positivity didn’t protect him or cure him of his extremely difficult physical circumstances. What about all the promises of positive thinking?

While positive thinking is an extremely vital and life changing concept, it requires clarity as to what it is and isn’t. In this article, I want to bring clarity to a very important distinction about positive thinking. Not understanding it can be a major source of disappointment. I feel that many positive-thinking gurus fail to make this clear, which gives the concept a bad reputation when, in reality, positive thinking is one of the most life-enhancing patterns that we can utilize to have a great and enjoyable life.

Of course, life is full of pain, disappointments, illness, heartbreak, challenges, and difficulties. Anyone who would disagree with that notion is just being foolish. At the same time, there is a dialectic, your life is also full of great stuff—health, wealth, joy, happiness, success, love, and unlimited gifts we all are blessed with. Life is an equal balance of good and bad; I’ve heard it described as a 50/50.

This idea is called dialectical thinking. The definition of the term states that “Dialectical thinking refers to the ability to view issues from multiple perspectives and to arrive at the most economical and reasonable reconciliation of seemingly contradictory information and postures.” This refers to the difficulty of being happy when so much pain exists in my life. This challenge applies to every area of life. Here’s an example to explain this concept:

The people who caused you the most pain also gave you the most positivity as well. Take your parents as an example, for most people, their parents were a great source of pain at times, nevertheless, they were also the people who did the best for them. Here’s another example: for the majority of people, the most hurt they will experience in life will be from their spouse, especially early in the relationship. At the same time, they also experience the most love, joy, safety, and happiness from that same person.

Would you say how can I love my parents, they caused me so much distress over the years? Or can I love my spouse if they have been the conduit for much pain, especially in the early stages of the relationship? We must be able to tolerate and hold onto the dialectic. We need to able to enjoy the good even when the bad exists at the same time.

This applies to positive thinking; it is not that there is no bad in our lives. The fact is also that there is also so much good at the same time. It is choosing to focus on what is good in our life rather than what is not. What is the good that our parents gave us” What is the good that our spouse brings to us? The key is to take note of all the blessing we have in our lives, fully associating with all that’s good in every aspect of our life. Where focus goes energy flows. Where our mind is, our emotions will follow. This is a big part of what positive thinking is about.

Benjamin Halpern, LCSW is the president of the F.A.S.T. Center for Personal/Professional Development. He works with individuals, couples, organizations, and businesses on stress management, peak performance, and work life balance. He is also a professional speaker on these topics.