Toxic Positivity

Too much of a “good” thing.

Positivity seems to be one of the latest trends, happily coexisting with KonMari’s magic and all the copy/paste messages you get about a new “opportunity” on Instagram. Suddenly we’ve got “Only Good Vibes” T-shirts and water bottles, and the latest miracle cure for every chronic illness is to just have happy thoughts.

Now, I’m not here to crap on someone’s happiness. If it helps your physical, mental, or emotional well-being to keep a gratitude journal, do it. If you have people in your life who are actively hurting you or make you miserable, by all means, limit your exposure. Put on your own oxygen mask first. Boundaries are crucial to any level of functioning, and some people just don’t need to be part of your daily life.

But…

  • If your first response to your friend with depression is that they need to think positive.
  • If your attitude towards people with chronic illness is if they just were happier, all their problems would fade.
  • If anyone having a bad day is just unacceptable to you.

Then that’s not being positive. That’s toxic positivity. This graphic puts it about as clearly as I’ve found anywhere:

Now, I get why this kind of attitude sounds appealing! It would be awesome if a few inspirational quotes and a cheerleader mindset were all anyone needed to have an awesome life. If I thought for a millisecond that thinking happy thoughts would cure my chronic illness, I’d do it all day every day. Unfortunately, life isn’t that simple, and humanity’s problems have yet to be solved by a positivity coloring book.

We have taken being happy and turned it into a virtue, until those who have mental illness, debilitating conditions, or are just having a bad day are somehow morally deficient.

We need to reevaluate our priorities, and remind ourselves that positivity is not a moral high ground, nor a good standard to use for ourselves or others. Everyone has bad days and bad moments, and it is part of the human experience to feel sad, tired, or overwhelmed. We cannot allow our relationships and communities to be overrun by a facade of joy and gratitude when we actually feel like garbage. It removes vulnerability from the relationship equation, and leaves those viewing your highlight reel either with a fake idea of what your life is like OR leaves them wondering what is hiding beneath the happy quotes that, really, tell them nothing about you and who you are.

Let go of the toxic positivity. Embrace honesty, vulnerability, validation, hope, and compassion for those who may not be in as good of a place as you are. Love people where they’re at, and when I’m having a bad day, for the love of all that is holy do NOT tell me to just have happy thoughts.

3 thoughts on “Toxic Positivity

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