Toxic Positivity: What’s so wrong with being sad?

“You just think happy thoughts and they lift you into the air!” Well, Peter Pan must have been snorting extra special fairy dust, because positive vibes alone won’t help you find a place to rent in Dublin. In today’s world, it seems that even being positive can be bad for you. The idea of “good vibes only” or positive psychology has flooded the internet in recent years with a focus on appearing as if you have it all under control, all of the time. This is not just irritating, but damaging. So why aren’t more people talking about it? Let’s find out.

The rise of positivity

The positivity movement, if we can call it that, is based on the belief that, no matter how hard or hopeless a situation is, you must always remain positive. To reject this is to be negative and to be negative is to fail. And you don’t want to be a failure, do you? It ties in with the other ideas linked to positivity, such as self-help books, the humble brag, and even success. Now, don’t get me wrong, being positive and optimistic can be a source of good and can help people to overcome many hardships, but there is such a concept of “you can have too much of a good thing”. After all, will apple cider vinegar shots and good vibrations help solve your money woes right this minute? I didn’t think so.



So where is the pressure coming from? 

In a nutshell, it seems that social media is one of the main sources of toxic positivity. Influencers are partly to blame for pushing the positivity movement as they promote shakes, books, clothes, music, workouts, and business tips that helped to bring more positivity into their lives. The idea being that, if you behave and use the same products and adopt the same mindset, you too can have it all. The added stress of getting the most out of your day and being happy whilst you do it has turned your average person into the all-singing, all-dancing, happy-go-lucky, positivity guru whose every waking moment is spent productively. They even work in their sleep by manifesting their next goal and are never off the clock.

This link between positivity and, in particular, financial success has meant that people feel put under a microscope of sorts. Self-help books like The Secret reinforce the idea that the Universe is constantly listening to the thoughts in your head. Therefore, if you deviate from that positive mantra then you will have bad luck. 

For an already stressed-out audience, this has meant additional pressure. A study that looked at social media platforms and their effects on health and well-being ranked YouTube as the least and Instagram as the most damaging, in terms of impacting young people’s mental health negatively. In fact, in the UK, rates of depression and anxiety have increased 70% in the last 25 years. Not to say that this is all stemming from toxic positivity, but, as our social media use has increased, so too has the need to be strong. 

The ability to immediately bounce back after a failure, and to always be achieving and believing shifts the blame back onto the person. It’s no secret that sometimes life just isn’t fair, but the problem with “toxic positivity” is that it leads people to believe that, if they fail, it was their fault for not thinking positively enough. Instead of accepting that some things happen outside of our control. 




The necessity of bad days – What goes up must come down

Now, don’t despair. I’m not saying that all positivity is toxic, simply that there are benefits to allowing yourself to be sad when the situation calls for it. Sadness is one of our four main emotions, along with happiness, fear and anger, and, as a natural state of being, we need to learn to give in to the emotion. There’s no point crying for five minutes over a heartbreak and then posting a video on how you’re going on a hike to lift your spirits. You need to give yourself time before dusting yourself off and carrying on with your life. 

After all, you cannot get over something that you never dealt with in the first place and expect to be genuinely happy. Granted, saying how you really feel is intimidating but, in the long term, it’s healthier for you, particularly in Ireland, where there is a culture of not complaining. It can be difficult to admit to unhappiness or failures, but, as the third most depressed country in Europe, it’s time people opened up and dealt with their feelings. 

Furthermore, studies show that sadness is also necessary for keeping us healthy. It can help the body heal from traumatic events and act as a way of purging our systems. There have even been studies showing the various benefits of sadness, such as improving memory skills, increasing motivation, making people more generous, and even improving our judgment skills. 

The future of positivity

So, where is this all going? In the future, it is unclear as to what this trend will achieve, but, as the world continues to face various problems and events, positive vibes may not be enough to sustain people. Toxic positivity merely acts like a plaster on a gunshot wound, one that will never heal no matter how many goals you achieve or pictures you upload if, underneath, you are denying your true emotions.

To move forward, we need to embrace the good with the bad and find balance, otherwise we risk poisoning ourselves with repressed emotions. So, I guess the overall message is to be realistic. Be positive and consume all the self-help books you want, if that’s what truly helps you. However, don’t allow yourself to become swallowed up by the guilt of a bad day or feel bad for complaining about a situation. Sometimes the best medicine is time and honesty, both of which are free. So, just remember you don’t have to smile through the pain, ugly cry if you want to. 


Grace Duffy
Grace Duffy

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