Toxic positivity – kind of sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? During the years I’ve been writing this blog I’ve cited research and empirical evidence on the benefits of positivity, optimism, happiness. I’ve also offered proven exercises and strategies that promote positivity and well being. I totally stand by those ‘well being’ posts. However, I would also like to provide a caveat.
The caveat is about slipping into ‘Toxic Positivity’ as described in the book by Whitney Goodman. Dr. Chris Peterson one of the founders of Positive Psychology, before his untimely passing, cautioned about indulging in ‘promiscuous positivity.’ What is meant by those two terms? The answer has to do with our humanity.
Here's the thing. As the Happiness Movement began earlier in the 21st century and evolved, there has been greater awareness and focus on happiness and being more positive. As I noted above, scientific research and empirical evidence continues to validate and confirm the benefits on our overall health and well being. You know it is often said that sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. You may also know that sometimes those good things can be taken to extremes.
Simply said, we must not forget that we are all human. Humans experience a wide variety of circumstances both good and bad. Humans experience a wide range of emotions and feelings both positive and negative. As beneficial as it is to focus on the positive, it can be detrimental to our well being to deny or suppress those negative feelings. When bad things happen we have the right to feel sad, angry, disappointed, etc. In fact it is best to acknowledge and allow ourselves those feelings. The idea, of course, is not to go over board on the negative side. In fact, the point is not to over stay our welcome in either positivity or negativity. You may have encountered the person who seems to be happy all the time or always pointing out the positive in a difficult situation. The truth is that they are not being real. As a Harvard Professor of Psychology once said that those who do not appear to experience the gamut of human emotions may be psychopathic or dead.
The bottom line is we are all better when we do aspire to become more positive and happier. We need to give ourselves permission to feel what we are feeling while being respectful to others in the process. There are many strategies available to cope with and minimize that downward spiral. One I like to use involves a timer. When feeling angry, frustrated,upset, etc., set a timer for 10, 15 or 20 minutes, your preference. That is the time in which you can wallow, complain, vent. When the timer goes off, your BMW (B**ch, Moan, Whine) time is up. The rest of the day should go much better.