I have written a lot over the years about well-being and what it means. Increasingly, I’ve been rattled by the idea that well-being is about being positive – sometimes obstinately so. This can lead to immense pressure to feel good and to look happy or smile all the time, which can inevitably have a detrimental effect on well-being. It belies the notion that, as humans, we need to feel a wide range of emotions and it is suffocating to remain in the positive realm all the time.
This concept has a name: toxic positivity. It is the belief that regardless of how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. It is linked to the idea of ‘brightsiding’ – no matter the situation, you have to find the positive and look on the bright side.
Have you heard these phrases or said them yourself?
“Think happy thoughts.”
“Be grateful for what you have.”
“It could be worse” or “Other people have it much worse.”
How about looking at it another way? A possible antidote to toxic positivity is ‘tragic optimism’, a phrase coined by the existential-humanistic psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. Tragic optimism involves the search for meaning amid the inevitable tragedies of human existence, something far more practical and realistic during difficult times. To add weight to this idea, research has shown that accepting negative emotions, rather than avoiding or dismissing them, may actually be more beneficial for a person’s mental well-being in the long run.
To me, it is clear that no amount of positive thinking will make some situations better. Sometimes, it might just be essential to stop smiling through it and to feel the reality of emotions.
Hi, I'm Joanna from Clean Well-Being.
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