Underthinking is overrated

I have given much thought to the topic of overthinking, and this is what I have come to: It is never a compliment to be told that you think too much; in fact, by some standards it is shameful to overthink—and all the more so if you are a woman. So thought Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD, (or so it seemed), author of Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life. In it, she wrote, “The epidemic of morbid meditation is a disease that women suffer much more than men. My studies have found repeatedly that women are more likely than men to fall into overthinking and remain stuck there….We are suffering from an epidemic of overthinking—getting caught in torrents of negative thoughts and emotions that overwhelm us and interfere with our functioning and well-being.”

No one ever told Einstein to cut it out. If he had cut it out, we wouldn’t now know that the universe is expanding faster than the speed of light and that some billions of years hence it will be a cold, dark, starless, earthless place, if it will be a place at all. No one ever told Shakespeare to just stop it. If he had just stopped it, we wouldn’t now know the difference between a metaphor and a simile.

It would be wrong, though, to make this a rumination about whether women have been made to stifle thought more often than men. It would be more fruitful to look at what it even means when people tell us we think too much. Nolen-Hoeksema was not wrong to suggest that “morbid meditation” (and, by this, I believe she was talking about obsessive thinking) can interfere with our well-being. She was wrong, however, to suggest that obsession and contemplation are one in the same: “…Many of us are flooded with worries, thoughts, and emotions that swirl out of control, sucking our emotions and energy down, down, down….Our concerns are about fundamental issues: Who am I? What am I doing with my life? What do others think of me? Why am I not happy and content? Answers do not come easily or quickly to such questions and so we search and ponder and worry even more….”

These are good questions to ask, but I am capable of living in a state of ambiguity while I seek answers without collapsing under the weight of any worries that might arise in the process. Searching and pondering do not, of themselves, beget worry.

So, ponder on, and, to anyone who tells you that you think too much, simply say, “My friend, you don’t think enough.”

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