If you don’t remember that moment you found yourself standing on a chair, thinking hard enough to pop every blood vessel in your eyeballs for some happy thought that might allow you to fly, I feel sorry for you; your childhood was either complete shit, or you had an imagination equal to that of a cardboard box—which, if you follow my logic, is next to nothing. Now, if you’re not still hung up on that last sentence—especially the part about how a cardboard box might have imaginative powers greater than zero—you’ll probably have no trouble remembering the magic of Peter Pan.

One of the most compelling pieces of sound childhood logic was that Peter Pan could fly merely because he was thinking happy thoughts. As a child growing up powerless in a world where mom and dad dictated your bedtime, where your temperature was sometimes taken rectally, and where the existence of closet monsters had not yet been disproven, the use of happy thoughts as fuel for flight seemed completely logical. This cult of childhood fantasy was powerful enough to fool even the greatest of skeptics, myself included. In my experience, if a happy thought had failed to send me soaring high above the trees, b-lining it to some far off land where freedom was abound, I simply hadn’t chosen the right thought—that is, my chosen thought was not “happy enough”.

Later on, after Michael Jackson had successfully smeared Peter Pan’s legacy with heavier themes of child perversion and body dysmorphic disorder, the idea that happy thoughts could make you fly pretty much left everyone’s mind. At that point it wasn’t fun anymore, and most people lost all connection with the idea that, indeed, willfully happy thoughts are of any value to us. What continued to prevail however, were the ever fashionable cults of negative thinking.

Schools of negative thinking are grown out of fear, but have been successfully popularized under the headings of more palpable public philosophies like “better safe than sorry”, “you need a plan”, and “keep your head out of the clouds.” All such ideas have been rolled out on the red carpets of cult thinking strategies that promise to minimize risk and disappointment, while putting control back into the hands of the thinker. Realist, pragmatist, scientist—these are the most salient examples of modern thought cultures that often try to hedge the deep disappointments of life by reigning in hope and deflating dreams through the systematic employment of a thought process that favors the possiblity of doom.

So, what does this have to do with a fictional cartoon character in green tights? Well, everything really. Think about it. It seems to me that one of the most interesting, yet subtle messages to come out of that entire silly story is found in the surprise that people often experience after learning what makes Peter fly. The inherently amazing value of happy thinking which is suggested in the story of Peter Pan is a concept we simply cannot grasp. In fact, the simple notion that a single happy thought could have any truly positive effect on its thinker is one we have so much difficulty accepting, that it could only appear in a fictional cartoon. For our daily lives, we’ve dedicated ourselves to the development and employment of negative thinking to help keep us “safe”; to keep us from “flying”.

I’m here to tell you that Peter Pan was right; happy thoughts can make you fly.

First, take a second to examine your own thought process and ask yourself two simple questions: “How much of my thought process is spent on problem solving and negative thinking?” and “How much of my thoughts are purely positive?” The latter question is particularly important, especially when considering the term “purely”. In my mind, a purely positive thought is one that is unconditional. This means to say that the positivity of the thought doesn’t depend on some kind of hope for a favorable future outcome; the value of the thought can’t be based on its payout. For example, the future prospect that you might get laid next week during that dope dub-step party out in BK [Brooklyn] is not a purely positive thought. Yes it makes you feel good, but the “happy” aspect of that idea depends on whether or not future events play out in a favorable way. Also, this kind of thinking—while entertaining—actually invites more negative and problem solving thoughts such as, “am I attractive enough?”, “what if I suck in bed?”, and “what if I don’t get laid at all?”.

The easiest way to begin entering the new school of happy thinking is to start with thoughts and ideas that aren’t so closely connected to your life in particular. Some of my personal top favorites are:

“There are so many good people out there working so hard to help others who need it”

“Being human is the most amazing experience”

“I feel so incredibly lucky; just being able to really love someone and have others who love me is the most amazing gift”

“Even though bad things sometimes happen unexpectedly, the best things happen unexpectedly too”

“People who care enough to have so much passion about something are so inspirational”

“I feel so thankful for those people that have helped me when I really needed them”

“I am never alone; I share this human experience with everyone on the planet”

“Living and loving well is success”

“The universe is such an exciting mystery that we will never fully understand”

If good food makes us healthy, what’s to say that what we put into and keep in our brains has any less effect on our wellbeing? The truth is that some modern thought has become the bad food for our minds; it has perpetuated an endless focus on problem solving with a perfectionist attitude meant to pinpoint failure and eliminate disappointment. By this rationale, negative thoughts receive an inflated appraisal for their ability to “keep us grounded” and thinking realistically. Subsequently, schools of such rational thinking have continually dismissed “happy thinking” as fantasy which serves no value in the reality of managing loss and failure. All of this serves to feed into a world view that insists that the deck is stacked against us, and that all one can hope to do is “manage” the attacks of a universe that is inherently bad. Wake up folks; the universe is not a bad thing; it’s a friggin amazing experience, though, most certainly shaped by our perceptions.

Through the colored glasses of calculated rationality, we purposely avoid a focus on positive thinking because we are taught to analyze results based on strict social and material measures. We forget about ideas like “good enough”, or “so what?”. Personally, I love the philosophy of “so what?”; it cuts through bullshit like a damn ginsu knife as it forces people to understand that much of the roots of negativity and fear come from ideas we’ve just made up. Ditch the ideas; ditch the fear.

The Bottom Line 

How we chose to live our lives, how we chose to see the world, and how we chose happiness is absolutely a choice within our power. Ultimately, you can choose to put stock into thoughts that inspire you and make the world feel more open, friendly, and promising. Turn off the television and cut off the negative media hype meant to gain ratings and increase ad sales. Challenge yourself: force yourself to entertain purely positive thoughts at least once a day. See how it makes you feel about yourself, the world and those you share it with. The world has a lot more great things to offer, but the bigger picture is always much more difficult to see from the ground—so fly.