The problem with positivity

The problem with positivity

“How to think positive and be happier” / “Seven ways positive thinking will change your life” / “100 ways to have a positive mindset and succeed!”

How many articles like this have you read? How often have you been told to just think positive and things will be OK? You smile, nod and silently think to yourself “alright for you to say…”

I don’t want to bash positivity here, but I do want to point out some problems with how it’s being forced upon us.

Because there are problems. Telling people to ignore negative emotions is dangerous. Telling people that thinking positive will solve all their problems is irresponsible.

I’ve touched on this subject before in my ‘having a shit day’ post, but today I want to delve a little deeper and explain why the wellness sector telling us to “Just be more positive” is a problem (and what I think we should focus on instead).

It’s patronising

For people with mood disorders, to whatever degree, being told by a well-meaning friend or family member to ‘be more positive’ isn’t helpful. Being told to ‘cheer up’ or even that ‘your mood is bringing everyone down’ is downright hurtful.

If you suffer from a condition like depression or anxiety, it’s not as simple as that. Thinking negatively is a symptom. And yes, it is a symptom that can be helped – but this usually involves psychotherapy/help from a professional, not an article or friend/family member shouting “cheer up and be more positive!”.

It encourages us to suppress negative emotions

When we’re told repeatedly that it’s good to feel positive we, understandably, think it’s bad to feel negative. When we feel low, we might try and suppress or ignore it – “focus on the positive” and all that, right?

Suppressing our negative emotions like this can be bad for our mental health in the long run. Those emotions have to come out somehow, and often it manifests as physical symptoms and leads to a whole host of fun problems like stress and anxiety (*waves*).


It puts us under pressure

I think the pressure to be OK and happy can affect anyone, especially if you’re looked upon as the one in your family/friendship group/relationship that is always “OK”. This pressure makes us not want to speak up when we’re not OK and feel like we want to hide anything negative.

It makes us ruminate

This links back to the idea that negative emotions are ‘bad’. If we think they’re bad, we can dwell on them, “why am I feeling like this?”, “I have such a great life, why do I feel sad?”. We can end up putting more focus on the negativity and  start to feel sad about feeling sad.

Let’s focus on kindness instead

My counter offer to this is to stop worrying so much about positivity and happiness, and focus on kindness instead. If we can cultivate a sense of compassion towards ourselves and others, we give ourselves permission to feel the full spectrum of emotion. We allow ourselves to experience emotions without judgement.

Become curious about how you’re feeling. What do you think has lead to this? What thoughts have flashed through your head without you even realising?

My October monthly musings newsletter is going to be about self-awareness, as I think tapping into this helps with being kinder to ourselves. What do you struggle with when it comes to self-awareness? What do you want to know more about? Leave a comment here or email me:

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The problem with positivity

4 thoughts on “The problem with positivity

  1. richardjalba says:

    Hey, you’re right. We should *be allowed* to give in to negative emotions at times. It’s human nature. Everything oscillates (goes up and down). Sometimes we inhibit our inhibitions and sometimes we give into it. Having negative emotions is human nature, and allowing us to accept that is allowing growth.

    We shouldn’t forget that positives lie in negativity as well. Insecurity allows us to push towards progress in our lives. And we should view negativity as an asset before we get comfortable with the inadequacy so many of the us accepts.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. chpot says:

    Hi Blue Jay, thank you for your post. I found it interesting. I believe in seeing the positive side of things as this makes life more enjoyable. But I also have a tendency to overlook negative feelings. Being ok with all my feelings is what I am trying to learn. Being fully self-aware is the key. Or we may be missing out on an important part of ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

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