Toxic positivity (n.): The overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state that results in the denial, minimization and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.
It usually feels good to be motivated, productive, happy and optimistic. And sometimes we get that extra boost through positive messages in our social media: we feel more encouraged and inspired through following accounts that share good vibes and motivational ideas.
However, if you’re an avid social media user, you know how increasingly positive social media has been in the past few years. We see more and more influencers sharing their happy lives and inspirational accounts posting overly optimistic quotes. Such content usually “just” aims to spread the idea of having a positive mindset and being happy. But signs like “think about happy things” and “stay positive” can actually feed the idea of toxic positivity.
We are humans. And we have all sorts of emotions. So forcing yourself to find positivity because of a trending idea that “I need to stay positive” during difficult times may actually do more harm than good.
During the COVID-19 pandemic you’ve probably seen posts like “how to use this time wisely” or “how to be optimistic” at some point. These kinds of posts seem quite disconnected from the difficult time we are facing, so if you feel like you’re not living up to what seems to be the expectations of positivity, I want to reassure you that feeling other sorts of emotions is not a failing.
I came across this article about Tragic Optimism by The Atlantic. “Tragic optimism” is about finding meanings amidst the inevitable tragedies of human existence. According to the article, humans grow through processing their emotions during and after challenging situations: it’s not the situation (i.e., COVID-19) itself that pushes us to grow, but rather “how we process the event.”
The main idea of tragic optimism is to practice gratitude. It asks us to be grateful of the whole human experience, not just the positive parts. I also like this specific quote that I read at Time: “Let happiness ensue, rather than chasing it.” Finding joy is more likely to happen if we believe that it’s the by-product of us searching for purpose in life, even in the negative parts.
Given how widespread social media is, I think my generation is often at that conflicting stance where we know how toxic online platforms can be, yet we still continuously make our best attempts to seek meaningful outcomes, such as finding positivity, from there. We have to be careful though, because sometimes we fall into the trap of mindlessly seeking optimism and not realizing that negative emotions are part of what make us, us.
To end off this blog, I’m sharing this quotation from Time as well:
“To be ‘well’ is not to live in a state of perpetual safety and calm, but to move fluidly from a state of adversity, risk, adventure, or excitement, back to safety and calm, and out again.” – Nagoski sisters
No matter how you’re feeling, I hope you have a great week ahead!