“Good vibes only.” “Happiness is a choice.” “Just think positive.”
These are just a few phrases that encourage people to look at the brighter side of any situation so they can be happy. Who doesn’t want to be happy, right? Decades of research show that being optimistic has a lot of benefits. Optimistic people remain healthier and live longer. They have a stronger immune function, better cardiovascular health, lower levels of stress and pain. In simple terms, an optimistic outlook equals good health.
A 2015 study of the impact of happiness on survival rates of 32,000 people found that being happy helps you live longer. According to Healthline, an American website and provider of health information, higher positive well-being was found to have a favorable effect on survival. It reduces the risk of death by 18% in healthy people and by 2% in those with pre-existing disease. Another study revealed that greater positive well-being in adults with established heart disease lowered the risk of death by 11%.
Previous studies also confirmed that optimists have more friends, stronger relationships with their friends, and fewer occurrences of negative social interactions. They can manage their relationships better and receive more support. While happiness seems so easy for some people to achieve, that isn’t the case for others. Some of us tend to pretend that we are happy as a response to other people’s words of encouragement and coping statements. While these phrases may be well-intentioned, they’re incredibly harmful and toxic.
Too Much Positivity is Toxic
Many people have learned to address a problem or negative emotion with positive vibes, seeing the good in everything or thinking that everything happens for a reason to the point that they will reject or dismiss negative emotions or anything that may bring negativity into their lives. This is called toxic positivity. The need to feel positive all the time, no matter how negative the situation is, can be detrimental for you, mentally.
According to the Good Men Project, a non-profit charitable corporation dedicated to helping organizations that provide educational, social, financial, and legal support to men and boys at risk, toxic positivity is the concept that keeping positive, and keeping positive only, is the right way to live your life. This means you can only focus on positive things and reject anything that may trigger negative emotions. Femina, a leading women's lifestyle magazine and digital brand, added that psychology groups define toxic positivity as the “excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.”
This kind of mentality is all over social media. A lot of social media platforms are full of accounts trying to spread positivity by encouraging others and lifting their spirits with motivational quotes and mantras. Some of these include “Think Positive, Be Positive,” or “ Be strong, things will get better.” It’s also the idea of encouraging people to always see the bright side and not open up about anything bad. While encouraging yourself to be happy is okay, too much of it is never good.
Many people, even celebrities, have opened up about how toxic positivity has had an emotional toll on them. Actress Charlotte Crosby, for instance, has always portrayed herself as wild and happy all the time because of the persona she has built herself up as having on the show. However, she has opened up in several interviews about the pressure to keep this personality up. According to The Tab, a youth news site published by Tab Media Ltd, Crosby feels as though she can let anyone know when she’s feeling down.
“I feel like because I put out such a positive version of myself that is so like happy and carefree people often think that’s who I am and that I can take anything, because I’m happy and funny and confident. But also I feel like I have no allowances to be down, or quiet, or the person who doesn’t talk as much or doesn’t come out because of this toxic positivity that I feel like I have to stick to. It’s a personality I’ve carved out for myself and now other people see me as that, and to some extent I am that person, but I feel boxed in when I’m not,” a woman named Madeline said.
Toxic positivity can be harmful because it can be dismissive for some people. It ignores the fact that pain, heartbreak, worry, and fear are normal and real parts of being a human. Many of us are dealing with difficult and heart-wrenching situations every day. While these emotions aren’t enjoyable or pleasant, they are important. They are important to both feel and express. However, with toxic positivity, those feelings are denied - they’re minimizing of life’s real and genuine pain.
Constant positivity is not a substitute for therapy and practical life advice. It only masks a person’s true feelings and hinders their recovery. According to The Bottomline, a weekly newspaper providing dependable campus and community news, previous studies have shown that suppressing our negative feelings puts more emotional weight on ourselves than when we accept them. People should recognize that anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue shouldn’t be taken lightly; one must have access to resources that can help them deal with it effectively.
Healthy Positivity is the Answer
Noel McDermott, a clinical psychotherapist, said that instead of ignoring negative emotions, people should use their experiences to build resilience, so we are better able to cope with similar situations in the future. "We can’t select which emotions we’re going to have. If we try to get rid of one set of emotions, we’ll get rid of them all and become numb to both pleasant and unpleasant emotions. If you try to get rid of bad emotions, you damage your whole internal world,” he said. Emotions, whether they are pleasant or not, shouldn’t be ignored or dismissed. They are part of survival but also part of the experience. Otherwise, repression interrupts the healing process. Instead of pushing the pain away, it would be better to process the pain. In this way, we can process it and find purpose in it rather than simply trying to use positivity to cancel out the pain. People should also know the difference between asking others to be positive and comforting and helping them through their sadness and depression.