The Philosophy of Toxic Positivity
Updated: Jul 12
A little self-help never hurt anybody, until it gets taken too far. “Thinking positively” is often the advice given when someone is going through a difficult time in their lives: shut out the negative energy, good vibes only, be happy! This is called toxic positivity; the overwhelmingly cheerful notion that thinking or spreading happy thoughts will make everything better. Just to clarify, there is nothing wrong with being an optimist or a positive thinker, but there is a line between being genuine and being invalidating toward people’s emotions.
A more effective way of showing support is to have compassion and empathy for people in your life. You can do this by first acknowledging the negative feelings they are dealing with. Bottling up your emotions is unhealthy, and something I struggle with as well, and I know that I dislike when people tell me to just get over how I feel. It encourages emotional suppression as opposed to fostering growth and there is no attempt at understanding people’s perceptions.
Making changes to your lifestyle to improve some aspect of it should not mean shutting out the negativity completely. We each have our own definition of the human experience, and personal ideas and emotions that drive us, thus we cannot shut out a part of ourselves just because it isn’t necessarily positive. There is no obligation to be happy and bright all the time; sadness and anger are a part of who we are (cue Pixar’s Inside Out) and they are perfectly okay.
Something important to note is not to give people unsolicited advice when you have these talks. You never know what people need from you unless you ask and maybe they don’t want your input and just need a shoulder to lean on. Open communication and conversation are so important and a great way to derail from toxic positivity because it allows for a level of trust and relationship-building. It never ever hurts to ask someone what they need and it doesn’t have to be complicated or awkward.
Striving for validation and hope, as the above image from Medium states, are much better alternatives to toxic positivity. Acceptance should be the first step, regardless of if you are trying to help a friend through something or work on yourself. This picture can be a starter tool for rewording how you approach people in need of a confidant.
My biggest piece of advice is to start small with something like affirmations to yourself. I love to bullet journal and I decided to incorporate affirmations into my weekly planning spreads, just to write some reminders to myself for when I have low moments throughout the week. An example of this from my own journal is shown below! Not only will they serve as symbols of your own worth, they will help you begin to see that being positive goes so much deeper than telling someone, or yourself, to just be happy.