“You can do anything!”. “If you think positive, you will attract positive”. “With attitude anything is possible”. “Today can be a great day. Smile.” These are some of the messages that flood social networks, but that can become a trap and affect psychological well-being.
We talk about toxic positivity because it seems that being positive is something very necessary, but we must always have our feet on the ground. So how can we identify this toxic happiness discourse and what is its impact on society?
Being happy is a state of mind, just as you are sad one day or angry the next. Therefore, toxic positivism is a way of preventing us from dealing with negative emotions, which ends up invalidating them. The “happiness industry” tries to disguise reality through a discourse in which we are told that with attitude you can achieve everything, and that if you don’t achieve it, it’s your fault.
Table of Contents
How does this culture of positivity work?
One of the most immediate effects behind this type of message is frustration, as it is a discourse that influences society and becomes a belief. However, it entrenches mental health problems because it makes us believe that we can do anything. They leave happiness in the hands of people and make us think that it is an individual responsibility. Therefore, it is an individualistic culture in which we do not have these mental strengths that they talk so much about, so we have to work more on ourselves to achieve them reaching the limit of not feeling emotions such as fear, complaint or frustration.
It is a discourse that exerts great pressure on society and can be really harmful. The happiness industry is very powerful, lucrative and influential. What is behind all this is a lot of guilt because if what they offer you is the idea that happiness is a personal choice, they are telling you that any suffering you have such as anxiety or depression is your fault. There is no self-help for structural and collective problems.
At this point it is important to understand that happiness is not a goal, it is not a way of life, but an emotional state, so we have to start normalizing and validating all emotions. One day you can feel very sad and another day happy. And that’s okay. You shouldn’t feel guilty if you have everything in your life and you don’t feel that happiness.
Toxic positivity can lead to avoidance behaviors by silencing negative thoughts. We avoid, feel guilty and get frustrated because we want to avoid something that is inevitable. A very clear message is where you are told that if you think negatively, negative things will happen to you, which creates an anxious situation for us because, in addition, the context or external factors are not taken into account.
Hopelessness about the future
A situation that is increasingly affecting younger people, especially after the outbreak of the pandemic. I think there is a hopelessness about the future that is not being addressed and that is causing a lot of frustration, anxiety and, above all, the fact of not having a life project.
Why all emotions must be normalized
The first step to undo this taboo is to begin to understand that all emotions other than happiness also have their space and their function, and that is what makes us human. One of the problems is the attempt to commoditize happiness. They sell you a special package to make you happy. Happiness is not in this, but in the small moments and in making an introspection to know what we really like and what we don’t like.
Otherwise, feelings such as guilt will appear for not feeling that happiness after having bought or done what you were told. There are many situations in which it is impossible to feel that all areas of life are fine, as has happened with the pandemic or as a result of suffering from an illness or precariousness.
In the end there is a feeling of not being able to express what you feel, and one of the causes is that we do not have an emotional education that explains to us how to manage our emotions. Thus, one of the main recommendations is to allow yourself to feel all kinds of emotions, to accompany and validate yourself instead of punishing yourself.
Differentiating toxic positivism from a positive attitude
Maintaining a positive attitude is an act linked to a reality depending on the circumstances.
You are validating that moment. For example, if you feel bad one day and you put on a movie to feel better. On the other hand, a toxic attitude would be telling yourself that you can’t afford to have a bad day and you deny the problems. This type of attitude, over time, is unworkable. It leads you to deep burnout because we are not robots, we are humans, and it is unworkable because you are deluding yourself.
In this sense, cultivating self-care is necessary, as long as it does not become an obligation. If, for example, our self-care is to do sports when we get home, but one day we don’t feel like it because we are too tired, that’s fine. The point is that we don’t have to feel bad because we have to feel comfortable.
How to avoid this toxic positivity
Do we exert this kind of pressure or toxicity towards other people? The first step is to validate what the other person is feeling. If a person expresses what they feel, you have to give the importance they deserve to their feelings and see if you are accepting their discomfort or trying to change it.
Therefore, we must try to transform phrases such as “don’t be overwhelmed”, “don’t worry, there are worse things in life”, “look on the bright side”, “it’s not that bad” or “you shouldn’t get like this”, for “I understand, I’m here for whatever you need” or “what can I do?”. In short, do not emotionally invalidate the other person, even if it is not intentional, allow them to express themselves and show our support.