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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

When we are feeling down, toxic positivity is not the answer

It’s okay to not be okay

As busy college students, there’s no time for sadness or negativity. Instead, we look at ourselves in the mirror, say “good vibes only” and throw up a peace sign as if we aren’t going through a tough time. 

Research proves that having a positive mindset can be beneficial. A caveat, however, is that too much positivity––also known as toxic positivity––can have the opposite effect. 

Essentially, toxic positivity is pretending to always be happy, even in the hardest times. This forced positivity helps us avoid how we are truly feeling––which may be why we do it so often. No one likes to feel sad or upset, but ignoring our feelings is unhealthy and an emotional breakdown waiting to happen. 

Unfortunately, social media makes it easier to seem positive all the time. It’s a place where we tend to only show the highlights and never the real, messy parts of our lives. Apps like Instagram and Pinterest are flooded with quotes that make us feel like a positive attitude can fix anything. With a press of a button, we have everyone, and ourselves, believing everything is fine. 

Instead, we need more “it’s ok to not be ok” quotes flooding our feeds. Not only is it the truth, but it also validates whatever feelings we may have––helping us realize we don’t have to be happy all the time and that we certainly don’t need to pretend to be happy. 

We are not the only culprits of toxic positivity. Sometimes when we seek validation for our feelings from friends and family, we are most often met with remarks such as “it could be worse” or “everything happens for a reason.” Although phrases like these are offered to us as words of encouragement, they serve more as a dismissal of our feelings.

Sadly, toxic positivity has become a new norm, especially during the pandemic. In order to subside feelings of panic, fear and sadness, we started being overly positive about our misfortunes. 

 Although it may be quicker to tell ourselves and our friends to “look on the bright side,” it’s not always that bright. This does not mean we should immediately become pessimistic, but rather that we should be more aware of our toxic positivity tendencies. That is, identifying when we are using positivity for the wrong reasons and stopping ourselves from continuing this bad habit. Allowing our bad days to run their course will make our good days all the better––sunny days are always more enjoyable after some rain. 

Positivity and optimism are essential to a happy and fulfilling life––that is, if it’s genuine. Being happy all the time is ideal, but not possible. Life is unpredictable and sometimes even when everything is going great, a pandemic comes in and messes it all up. Toxic positivity might be a quick fix for feelings we don’t want to face, but we will never be able to move on if we don’t allow ourselves to feel how we need to feel. Even if we aren’t willing to do this for ourselves, we should do it for others. So the next time our friends confide in us, instead of responding with an unwanted positive remark, we need to actively listen and validate their feelings. 

Written By: Kacey Cain –– klcain@ucdavis.edu 
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

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