Toxic positivity is the silent corruption of happiness

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(Toxic Positivity: Why Positive Vibes are Ruining You, 2020)

I’m tired. I got a bad grade on a test. My sister is mad at me. I lost that game. I tripped walking in the snow. I lost five dollars. I didn’t get into that school. I don’t feel good—my body hurts. I hurt.

“Keep a positive mindset honey, you’re so negative. I mean, it’s no wonder you aren’t feeling yourself lately.”

No. Not everything is fine. It’s not all just going to “work itself out.” People suffer, people are sad, and in today’s day and age, these people must eventually comfort themselves with the simple truth that such emotions are both natural and necessary in order to heal. Pain is not the ultimate hurdle to avoid. 

Unfortunately, our society has become so positivity-driven that being authentic coexists with internal guilt. “Good vibes only” and “living my best life” are the mantras of a generation that turns a blind eye to the hard truths of the human essence.

“Good vibes only” and “living my best life” are the mantras of a generation that turns a blind eye to the hard truths of the human essence.”

There is a national pandemic, but the country is told not to worry. “It’s going to disappear soon.” 

People are told to quarantine—stay inside and have no connection to the outside—and react by “adjusting that attitude.” They are told, halfheartedly, that “everything happens for a reason.” 

Toxic positivity: the belief or assumption that we should always have a positive mindset. This is a term known by few; the concept, however, is becoming increasingly popular. 

Toxic positivity means always putting the best face forward while encouraging others to do the same. This becomes a vicious cycle of pushing away all emotions to feel only a false sense of strength, making it the only emotion acknowledged. All the negative ideas are shoved in a drawer. The drawer is slammed shut. 

It sounds pretty simple and honestly quite nice; no negative feelings are allowed. Unfortunately, this act draws a tough conclusioneventually, the drawer becomes stuffed. Perhaps the drawer won’t shut at all now. Perhaps there is no more distress; the brain is numb. If we encourage this kind of positivity on those with more prominent negative emotions, we are, in reality, counterproductively isolating them. If we continuously tell our friends and family to stay positive in a difficult situation, why would they continue to seek us out for comfort? There’s that isolation.

Positivity tends to be rolled into a ball with optimism and hope, yet they are very different. 

When we confront an illness or a loss or a disappointment on any level, we want to feel optimistic and hopeful. It’s okay to take a breath and acknowledge that that experience wasn’t great. Everything in our society today screams “just stay positive,” that “positivity is a mindset,” and to keep “positive vibes.” 

At what point does this attitude become detrimental? Staying positive all the time crowds out your other emotions. It makes you less creative and less productive. “Researchers suggest that being in a happy state might make us see the ‘big picture’ instead of ‘small details,’”  (Toxic Positivity: Why Positive Vibes are Ruining You, 2020). In a sad or just a generally unhappy state, most of the time we pay more attention to the fine details of things knowing something is off, hence our overall unhappy mindset.

There’s a difference between feeling sad or angry and feeling depressed. I am in no way implying that someone with depression should embrace it. Depression is a widespread and common mental illness that should be addressed and treated without judgment in any form. I am simply proposing that some negative emotions are transient; it’s okay to feel them and then let them go. It’s natural to feel them. 

COVID-19 and our generation’s social media craze collide to make toxic positivity an increasingly prevalent problem. On one hand, we are feeling out of touch, isolated, and maybe anxious; on the other, we are bombarded with posts presenting the idea that we should be eternally happy because everyone else seems to be. What’s wrong with me then?

Humans are wired to feel a myriad of emotions; that’s the messy beauty of humanity. If we only embrace positivity, our humanity is weakened. By rushing to try and quickly brighten our lights, we end up putting them out.