Please Stop Always Looking on the Bright Side

On the damaging effects of toxic positivity on real positivity

We’ve all been there. Drowning under the weight of essay deadlines when suddenly everything that seemingly could go wrong somehow does. It’s an inevitable part of life. Where there are highs come lows, and that’s okay. But somehow, we’ve normalised associating these moments with shame and disdain. One scroll through Instagram and you’ll see grids full of quotes reminding us to “find the silver lining” and “think positive.” But what if all this positivity is just getting in the way of us leading authentic and fulfilling lives?

Humans are complex beings, and our lives are becoming more and more difficult to navigate. We are intrinsically flawed and cannot simply be confined to one emotional state. We are always going to have tough moments — it’s a fact of life. But the toxic positivity narrative encourages us to suppress them at the detriment of our mental stability. We owe it to ourselves to lead authentic lives in which we appreciate the highs alongside the lows. Life isn’t black and white, and sometimes the greatest struggles result in the most happiness. All feelings are productive in helping us experience life in its complete and intended form. But that doesn’t mean suffering always has a reason. Sometimes it just really sucks, and it's okay and valid to be mad about that.

By denying ourselves the full experience of emotions as they are, we run the risk of harbouring them for much longer than we otherwise would. Emotions don’t go anywhere when we refuse to deal with them; they simply build up to the point where they become insurmountable. When hard moments do come, we need to let ourselves lean into them and experience them in order to fully process and move on. Societally, we are conditioned to minimise and suppress feelings to cope with them. But practically, without confronting our problems, we are unable to regulate them. All we achieve by gaslighting ourselves in this way is invalidating our struggles to the point where we feel we shouldn’t seek help. Negative emotions and experiences aren’t going anywhere but that doesn’t mean we have to live in fear or avoidance of them.

This is a one-size-fits-all approach to mental health that’s outdated and needs to be left behind if we want to make real progress. It tells us that if someone else could think positively, grin and bear it, then so should we. We need to break down the shame that comes with mental health issues and normalise a spectrum of feelings. Otherwise, this shame not only affects us but the way we interact with the world around us.

It makes me cringe when I think of how many times I’ve dismissed someone’s struggles with a so-called optimistic approach. If we fail to embrace our own feelings, we naturally struggle to embrace those of others. And although well-intentioned, there arises a real barrier in human connection when we constantly put up fronts around each other. People value vulnerability and honesty, and a transparent approach to relationships is key. These struggles are what make us whole and are something that should connect us, not leave us feeling more isolated. Our feelings deserve to be validated and experienced for what they are, and while this requires a mindset shift, it also requires a change in societal attitudes. We need to drop these artificial dispositions and learn to embrace the negative rather than run from it.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Wow, she sounds like fun. But this isn’t just a pessimistic grumble of a tired student at the end of term. It’s the reality of the human condition. Our lives are never going to be perfect, and no amount of positive thinking can make them that way. We don’t have to start hating our lives to fix this though, just appreciate them for what they are: complex and messy but all the better for it. For what it’s worth, no one ever became a happier person by deleting all negativity from their life. The key is to face your battles head-on, whatever they may look like.

Image: Ian Cowe / Flickr

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