The Destructiveness of Overbearing Positivity in Today's Culture

The Problem with Positivity

“Just look on the bright side. There’s always a rainbow after the rain.”

  If I had a penny for every time I heard that or something remotely close to it, then I’d have a pretty fat wad of cash stashed away in a nest egg.  It isn’t unusual to hear positive, motivational quotes when you’re stuck in a rut.  That’s pretty much how we’re programmed as a community to respond to negative energy.  Society tells us that positive thinking is what will make the hard times easier.  I feel like we’ve been brainwashed to think that happy thoughts can somehow make you fly away from your troubles.  But this isn’t Peter Pan, and there is no Neverland.  This is real life, and real life can suck.

Off to Neverland with Peter Pan

  I’m speaking mostly from personal experience and from my conversations with friends, families, and patients alike…  Being told that “things could be worse” or “you just need to be more positive” can actually make it worse.

  There was a study led by Joanna Wood from the University of Waterloo in Canada, where people would repeat the mantra of “I am a lovable person” sixteen times, and would then take a survey to see how they felt afterwards.  The study resulted in those with normal to high self-esteem felt better after the task, and those with low self-esteem felt worse.  Eh? How does that make any sense?

  Well, If I feel like I’m an undeserving individual trying to convince myself otherwise, I end up with me feeling even worse about myself.  It’s only because I’d think that I wasn’t normal like everyone else who had a positive outcome chanting that little mantra.  This is what happens most of the time when I try to think positively about myself or my situations.  My thoughts are engulfed with uncertainties, deficiencies, and worst-case scenarios, making it very difficult to convince myself that I am worth it.   

Read: Joanne Wood’s Positive Self Statements: Power for Some, Peril for Others study

  It’s already difficult enough to gather the courage to reach out for help when we’ve reached a breaking point.  Now just imagine reaching that point and having someone actually respond to you that it could be worse, or that your attitude is the reason that you feel this way.  IT SUCKS.  Not only have you belittled our problems and our feelings, you’ve told us that it’s our fault we feel this way.  It’s not that we want to be unhappy, it’s that we can’t even though we’ve tried.  Trust me when I say, we’ve tried.

Tina Fey, "You need to cool it."

  Just imagine that you’re fighting with your significant other, and the first five words that leave their mouth during the heat of an argument is, “you need to calm down.”  How often do you think someone calms down after being told that?  Not often at all.  Because you’re experiencing your emotion.  It’s the same concept for trying to cheer up your friends.  You may have good intentions in trying to lighten their mood, but how effective do you think it is?  Probably not very effective.

They just love Eeyore anyways

  When I first read this image on Facebook, I was happy that someone could draw this conclusion from a children’s series.  This is from Winnie the Pooh.  We all have seen the theories that every character in Winnie the Pooh represents some form of mental illness, whether it’s anxiety, OCD, ADHD, or depression.  Not all of them are as obvious as Eeyore’s depressive mood in the cartoon.

   They just show him love.  Love doesn’t have to come in the form of a pep talk to try and boost someone’s confidence.  If we didn’t have the confidence to begin with, what makes you think telling us that we don’t have it, will magically give it to us?  “Happiness is just a state of mind.”  Yes, thank you, a state of mind that I seem to have the inability to reach.

Read: Life with Generalized Anxiety

  Now hear me out, I’m not saying that being in a depressive state is good for anyone’s health, but these emotions demand to be felt, not pushed aside and left to brew for another day.  Forcing positivity down on someone that’s depressed is like trying to shine light into a black hole.  We’ve all seen the first photo of a black hole this year! No light goes into that black hole.

See? No light to be had in there. Credit: NSF

See? No light to be had in there. Credit: NSF

It’s okay to say that there is a brighter side. But don’t make it seem like someone is wrong for not being at that brighter side yet. Have patience with them. Be the supportive friend, but be there in the way they need you to be there.  Most of us don’t want life lessons if we aren’t readily asking for them.  Telling us that we could have it worse just belittles our feelings and makes us feel even worse about opening up in the first place.  Don’t give your friends reasons to shut themselves off if they’ve found the courage to open up.  Most of us just want a group of friends that will sit and treat us like we’re not fragile or treat us like we’re crazy for feeling the way we do.  Just show us love.