Despite what social media may tell you, we don’t have to find the good in every situation.
Have you ever found that, after something horrible happens to you, instead of allowing yourself to come to terms with the severity of the situation you decide to think positively and move on? Did you just say, “never mind, tomorrow will be better”? Have you ever received bad news and thought “everything happens for a reason”, or used the age-old saying “when one door closes another opens”? Sound familiar? This is known as toxic positivity: when we are obsessed with thinking positive thoughts and forcing ourselves to see the good in every situation. This can often result in bottling up our emotions and failing to recognise when we should seek help, brushing over our difficult times with an “inspirational” quote.
Growing up we’ve been taught that thinking positively will attract positivity in life. Whilst choosing to think with a glass-half-full mentality can help turn a bad day around, it can become more obsessive than that. Social media often forces the narrative that no matter how dire a situation is, there is good to be found in it, and others have it worse anyway. It’s a common occurrence for people to experience a horrible situation and choose to think that it “happened for the best”, rather than paying attention to potential red flags.
This happened to me when I knocked into a mannequin at Selfridges in London, which caused a domino effect, knocking down five mannequins in a row. My mother gasped, because she understood the seriousness of what happened, whereas I just laughed and moved on. In hindsight, I should have seen this accident as a sign that my sight was getting worse and that another doctor’s visit was due. I masked both my worries and my health condition by focusing on more positive thoughts, under the guise that “everything was going to be all right”.
I’m not, of course, saying that thinking positively is always harmful, but glossing over it when something has affected you in a particular way can be. One of the top risks this poses is that people will overlook real harm, potentially stay in dangerous situations, and convince themselves everything will be okay. This could have serious implications for safety. My mannequin fiasco was one such case; on a more immediately dangerous level, an example of blinding “positivity” could result in people remaining in abusive relationships because they tell themselves things “will get better”.
Toxic positivity, in one of its more extreme forms, can also bring people to demean the losses they have experienced. We often hear reassuring sayings that the loved one we have lost is in a better place, or that they would not want you to cry, and they would want us to move on. Although these sayings are often meant with the kindest intentions, they can place undue pressure on a grieving individual, implying they aren’t responding to the loss correctly. The best thing we can do for one another is offer support, whether that is a shoulder to cry on or a person to rant to. The answer isn’t always forcing a positive mindset.
Other risks include communication issues and feelings of isolation. If someone has upset us, we shouldn’t be made to feel as though we should just brush it off and respond with a laugh. Toxic positivity can prevent us from communicating effectively in our relationships, failing to open up about how we truly feel. It can also be incredibly isolating for people with disabilities or mental health struggles when the common narrative is to force a smile during hard times because so many people “have it worse”. This can prevent people from reaching out for help because anything less than “good vibes” is stigmatised as being overly negative.
Whilst we all want to approach life with an optimistic outlook, we need to remember that it is okay to have a bad day. If we didn’t recognise the down days, we’d never distinguish the good ones. We cannot always solve our problems with positive thinking, we need to let those feelings out and talk to someone. Never be afraid to share how you feel or ask for someone to listen.