What’s This about Toxic Positivity?

I live around people who focus a lot on the good in their lives and strive to present themselves as happy. I respect that very much and love them for it. Everyone in my household has a gratitude practice, and two of them write about it in their journals every day. These are all very admirable things to do. I’m glad these practices are good for their mental well being.

Happy happy, joy joy! So what if it’s windy and my hair hurts!

I spend my “gratitude time” noticing what is going on right now that brings me joy. Yesterday I saw a coyote cross the road, then a bluebird flew by. Happiness! Today I smelled some lotion that brought happy memories to me. Living in the moment is also healing for the soul.

But sometimes, lately often, I notice people who simply don’t allow themselves to pay heed to or allow themselves react outwardly to the challenging parts of their lives. Some people close to me seem to want to force away anything that would cause pain, worry or stress to present a very cheerful persona. What I’m having trouble with is when people judge themselves and others (say, me) for not always being happy. Taken to an extreme, that’s toxic positivity.

Sometimes I just can’t do it. Like, hey, I’m annoyed by that backwards apostrophe.

I’m not the only person to notice it. I read this article recently, and it helped me see why I was feeling uncomfortable with the pressure to always present myself as happy. It’s why I’d practically growl at people who’d chirp “Smile!” at me if I was presenting myself as neutral or concerned. “Look, I’m thinking about my dead dog. I don’t want to smile.” Here’s how it feels to me:

A lot of us feel pressure to come across as though we are living our best lives. And I’m not saying everyone who says they are happy is actually not, or people who try to push “positive vibes” onto you don’t have your best interests at heart – but covering up your true feelings with layers of fake happiness is really not it.

Welcome to the world of toxic positivity: The trend which is ruining our lives, by Hayley Green

Especially right now, I have started to feel like I let my family down if I admit that I’m stressed at work, or had a bad experience, or even just feel a bit grumpy. I’m not negative all the time; in fact, I’m not positive all the time. I think my base is sort of neutral, so I’m not a little ray of sunshine nor do I walk under a dark cloud. I just experience what’s going on right now, which can be good, bad, or in between. It’s me. It’s how I am.

Carlton would rather hide from negativity.

I’m not alone, thankfully. One of my friends, who thinks about mortality a lot, wrote her own obituary today, and in it she said:

She spent her life resisting toxic positivity. Not because she didn’t see goodness in the world but because she saw all of it and didn’t deny the whole story.

JD, her obituary, Facebook

That’s okay with me. In fact, it made me happy to read what my friend said!

I found this handy example of how you can validate someone’s feelings without making them feel like they have to fake being happy with everything:

Image from sitswithwhit on Instagram

We’re All Different

This is NOT my message to my readers!

Look, I’m not knocking people who have found that focusing on the positive has improved their lives. I’m pleased for them, and encourage them to keep up that practice, because it works for them. I just hope that they can allow other emotions when they truly are valid.

It seems to me that it takes a lot of effort to push down anything that’s not 100% cheerful. It probably takes as much effort to be endlessly negative (I do know some of those folks, too, the ones who can take anything you say and find the down side).

So please, do what works for you to cope with the challenges you are facing every day. But consider that not everyone is cut out for being happy at all times, and that some of us don’t even want to. Let’s enjoy our differences and be patient with our friends and family who cope differently than we do. Then we can have some genuinely non-toxic positivity in our lives.

As a donkey, I make people happy, but I’m sort of an Eeyore. I can’t change.

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog. I work with Hermit Haus Redevelopment to help people quickly sell their houses. I do their social media! I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I'm also a tech writer in Austin, secretly.

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