Our culture is filled with toxic positivity. If you go into any store you will see merchandise with sayings such as good vibes only or other motivational sayings. During the holiday season people are encouraged to reflect on what they are thankful for and pressured to feel happy. Toxic positivity creates an environment where everyone is expected to be upbeat at all times. It is important for people to realize the blessings in their lives and to see if there is good or a lesson to be learned in the most difficult situations. Many people confuse gratitude with toxic positivity. Toxic positivity is where a person is not allowed to feel anything but positive emotions. Forced positivity can often be more damaging than negativity. People may feel the need to hide how they are truly feeling for fear of being shamed.
Expecting a person to be happy all the time, is not a reasonable expectation. No one truly feels joyous 100 percent of the time. People can feel a whole gamut of emotions such as anger, sadness, anxiety, fear, and happiness. I can remember how difficult it was to attend social functions, when I was single. Watching other happy couples was difficult enough, but when people would ask me when I was getting married made it more difficult. I could choose my response and limit my time with a difficult person at parties.
Many people also told me to put my feelings aside and be happy for the other person. People would also tell me that I shouldn’t feel a certain way. I was happy that the other person had achieved a dream of theirs. I couldn’t control the feelings I was experiencing, but I could control my actions. I chose to show up, smile, offer my congratulations, and gave myself something to look forward afterwards. In time many of my wishes happened and it meant the world to have them share in my joy.
I also learned that I couldn’t control other people as well. I have no power over other people’s words or actions. The only thing I can control is what I say and what I do. I am accountable for my actions and words, not the works of others.
Happiness is also not the responsibility of other people. If you rely solely on another person to make you happy, you will be disappointed. Despite difficult circumstances, I look to things that do bring me happiness.
I have had people tell me that I was too negative when I struggled with having a Learning Disability. People would tell me that all I had to do was think positively and I could achieve anything. . I also had people who told me that other people had it worse than I did or were more disabled than I was. I understand that everyone struggles with something, but dismissing my difficulties didn’t make me feel grateful. I felt more frustrated and not validated.
People have also told me that I am too happy or that not everyone gets to live a positive life. If I search for a perfect day I will be disappointed. However, if I look for the blessings in each day, I can find it. Sometimes the goodness is hidden and it may be a little thing. On a difficult day the smallest bit of good, can make a huge difference.
It is important for people to be not to be shamed for how they are feeling. There is nothing wrong with being happy or sad. All feelings are valid and sometimes you may feel a mix of them.
Toxic positivity robs the pure joy out of people, by shaming people into masking happiness. People can’t change their feelings, but only what they do with them. Gratitude is not something that can be coaxed or forced. True gratitude is what someone feels in their heart, not what someone tells them to feel.
2 thoughts on “How Toxic Positivity is not gratitude”
Wonderful article, and yes having a winning smile does nothing to change reality. Emotions are real and worth our attention, expression, and noticing. I struggle with explaining to people that there are gifts to be found in grief, illness, and disability, and there are also losses that must be recognized. Minimizing someone’s experience or telling someone to put on a happy face because it makes you uncomfortable is harmful.
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Thank you so much!