Having a positive outlook in life is a must for a happier and more fulfilling life. However, dismissing the fact that you feel negative emotions doesn’t lead to a happier life. In fact, it ruins your full experience of life. Focusing too much on the “positive side” while denying the fact that you experience negative emotions is called toxic positivity.
What Is Toxic Positivity?
Toxic positivity speaks of people’s constant need to keep themselves happy, no matter what’s happening around them. It’s a pervasive culture of believing that life must always feel good. And that you should always look at the brighter side of life.
But the truth is, it’s all a mask; a facade. It’s fake. As humans, it’s impossible for us not to feel negative. We’re made to feel emotions because emotions are the colors of life. It gives life excitement and variety that we all need. If not for negative emotions, we wouldn’t even grow.
You see, emotions are feedback mechanisms. We feel good when we do something good. Once your brain notices a good thing you’ve done or experienced (based on your values), it gives you pleasure.
The opposite is true, too. When you feel bad, it’s because something negative is about to happen or is happening. That tells your brain that something needs to change. And that’s also the reason why we’re more inclined to take action when we’re in pain.
Can You Be Too Positive?
Yes, there’s a point when being positive becomes too much. It’s the point where you fail to acknowledge the fact that feeling sad, lonely, frustrated, etc. is normal for us humans. In fact, it’s what adds flavor to our existence.
In my observation, the increase of toxic positivity in our culture comes from the rise of personal development without proper context. People read books that tell them about positive thinking, mindset, and focusing on the brighter side of life. But without setting the right frame, these books can be misleading.
Sure, a positive outlook helps you become more successful. Research after research shows us that a positive mental attitude helps us perform better. Especially when it matters most. Yet, most books put successful people on a pedestal nobody can even live up to.
For example, books tell stories of successful people who persist in life, didn’t give up and eventually met their goals. Yet giving this broad perspective without going into the finer details gives an illusion that you always need to be positive. You don’t.
Case in point: When Steve Jobs was fired from Apple in 1985, he didn’t immediately rise up and start NeXT. In fact, he was devastated! He was so disheartened that he experienced a mid-life crisis. Everything wasn’t okay.
Successful people don’t always look at the brighter side of life. At least not immediately. And the fact is, they don’t force it. They don’t lose perspective of what’s important, but they heal with time.
Toxic Positivity In Social Media
The culture of toxic positivity is rampant on Social Media. You see people’s highlights and most curated moments on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, etc. But you rarely see the whole picture. You don’t see the bloopers and efforts behind the scene.
There are those who feel sad and discouraged. Yet somehow, they feel compelled to make themselves and their lives look great on Social Media. You’ll see them post pictures of seemingly happy adventures with #positivity and #lovelife. But reality is far from what they show virtually.
Don’t let yourself feel down because it seems like everybody’s passing through. Zooming their way to a happier life while you’re still the same. It’s normal to feel that way. In fact, I still feel like that sometimes.
But as you’ll soon discover, learning how to acknowledge and frame your negative emotions will serve you better.
Toxic Positivity In Christianity
Perhaps one of the big misconceptions in Christianity is that you always have to feel good in life. You don’t have to. Life is a series of moments; and each moment is different. In Ecclesiastes 3, Solomon said:
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”Ecclesiastes 3: 1, 4, 8 (KJV)
This duality between weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing, loving and hating is what makes our life unpredictable. It’s what makes it enjoyable. And you can’t appreciate the fullness of life if you dismiss the negative emotions.
Now, as Christians, we have that overflowing peace that comes from our relationship with Jesus. It isn’t toxic positivity. It’s just that we know that our future is in God’s hands, not ours. And these feelings wouldn’t last. Even if it did, we know who holds our future. And we can rest in that.
The Cure For Toxic Positivity
Whenever you’re tempted to reflect fake positivity, here are 3 things you need to keep in mind. This helped me deal with the constant nudge of my insecure self to always show that I’m living a great life.
Acknowledge and Accept Your Negative Emotions
The first thing you need to do is to acknowledge your negative emotion. It’s there for a reason. For example, if you’re feeling afraid or worried about the future, chances are you’re making a future inconvenient scenario in your mind.
Or when you’re feeling sad, you might be dwelling on a problem or a past event that made you feel that way. You have to acknowledge that you’re doing that and you have control over your thoughts.
Next, accept that it’s okay to experience negative feelings. In fact, it’s normal. No matter what you see in others – through social media or personal interaction – what you see are curated. You don’t see what’s really going on with their life. So thinking that everyone’s doing great and making progress while you’re not is unfounded.
Once you’ve acknowledged and accepted your negative emotions, the next thing you can do is to take control of the “frame.” Framing is one of the best techniques I’ve learned when I was studying Neuro-Linguistic Programming or NLP.
For starters, it’s all about understanding the context on how you look at things. Then changing that context to something that’s useful for you. Reflect on why you’re feeling the emotions you’re having. Then ask yourself, “Is there another perspective here that I’m not seeing?”
As Wayne Dyer once said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Another thing that you can do is to practice mindfulness. Be present, intentional, and appreciative of your current emotions. You don’t have to wallow into it or see yourself as a victim. It’s all about being present in the moment – fully experiencing what’s happening to you right now.
How Do You Deal With Toxic Positivity?
It’s easy to catch and deal with ourselves when we’re tempted to fake our happiness. But what do you do when other people are imposing their “enlightened” point of view on you. Here are things you can remind yourself of.
They’re Coming From A Place of Concern
When people tell you that “Everything’s gonna be okay” or to “Look at the brighter side of life,” remember that they mean well. Instead of thinking of them as insensitive people, share how you’re feeling with them.
Ask them if it’s okay to share and if they’ll listen. Although most people are self-absorbed, you’ll find that there are a few people in your circle who will lend an ear. They’re the ones you need to cherish in life.
Thanks for reading! I hope you learned something.
Live an inspired life,