by Kellie Whitehead
It’s nice to think that if you just ‘want’ something enough, it can happen.
If you dream it, you can achieve it.
Just think about something really hard, and it happens!
If you are smelling the same scent I am around that last statement, then you can see where I’m going here (to look for a shovel, firstly).
Manifesting is a popular term right now, and I’m not dismissing it entirely. Positive thinking and focus should absolutely result in positive action, and that in turn, can lead us on a path towards our goals. The key word is action.
Thoughts alone, however lovely, cannot transform your status or being.
Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.
But seriously, the online world is positively drowning in toxic positivity. An oxymoron in itself, because if it’s toxic, it ain't positive.
And of course, it isn’t just online. Real life is full of rubbish platitudes too. “Cheer up, it may never happen!” “Look on the bright side!” and my favourite - “It’s what they would have wanted” - really? Usually, what they would have wanted would to still be alive, but yes, thanks for your ‘kind words’.
The kindest words, when you are in a situation where there are ‘no words’ are usually simply ‘I’m sorry’. Anything other is simply toxic positivity at its finest and feels as uncaring as saying nothing at all.
Negative feelings can make people uncomfortable, sure. Nobody likes an eternal pessimist, a moaner, or a thoroughly negative Nancy. The flip side to this is not an eternal optimist, that’s a good thing - but a point blank refusal to entertain anything less than ‘keep going, the sky’s the limit!’ is just in denial.
I’m adding ‘Be kind!’ to the list too. This is actually a separate post on its own, but it is a phrase now so diluted it is practically meaningless. That denial I mentioned - things are happening in the world. Most of us get up and bring our best selves to our daily endeavours. Nobody gets up and decides to have a bad day. Talk about empathy, talk about compassion, talk about better behaviour - share rationale, debate, use examples - but throwing ‘Be kind!’ around in lieu of any intelligent opinion is just, well, baseless.
Our good days are littered with challenges, miniscule and sometimes huge. Does this mean anyone has the right to be UNkind? Of course not, Do we need telling this as grown adults? I surely hope not.
It is natural and part of the human experience to feel bad sometimes. Internet platitudes, ‘inspirational’ memes and quotes and inauthentic attempts at ‘thought leadership’ are swamping our online experience. What if I don’t love my body every day? What if sometimes, being a parent is not my favourite thing in the world? What if I want to call out bad behaviour or experiences?
Nobody is happy and ‘nice’ 24/7 - so stop pretending to be. A whitewashing of people's lived experiences is occurring and it isn’t helpful.
As a society, people are more vulnerable than ever. They want or need to make more money (to live on, by the way, not to upgrade their house, car or handbag) They want to work less (for their sanity or family, not to spend more time at the beach) and the idea that you can make thousands of dollars doing *this* if ONLY YOU TRIED is dismissive and full of snake oil. ‘Happiness is a CHOICE’ they blare - so remember folks, if you aren’t happy today, then you’ve made a BAD CHOICE. Nothing to do with illness, money worries, disabilities, an insecure workplace - the list goes on.
Let’s talk about the how and the why, the shared experiences - read a room and answer when you have something to offer. Share a story - you never know who it will touch. Let me tell you, that sharing a faux inspirational meme, or the idea that the only public image you can portray must be as fake as the next doom scroll is just a waste of time.
Toxic positivity invalidates unpleasant emotions. It’s surface level stuff and it’s denial. If you really did care about helping, you’d take the time to do it properly, not just try and appear ‘nice’ and ‘supportive’ for the ‘gram. People reading this stuff experience shame and guilt for not ‘achieving’ or feeling the same way, and it’s nonsense.
Whitney Goodman has just written a brilliant book on the subject - Toxic Positivity: Keeping It Real in a World Obsessed with Being Happy
“Every day, we're bombarded with pressure to be positive. From 'good vibes only' and 'life is good' memes, to endless advice, to 'look on the bright side', we're constantly told that the key to happiness is silencing negativity wherever it crops up, in ourselves and in others. Even when faced with illness, loss, breakups and other challenges, there's little space for talking about our real feelings - and processing them so that we can feel better and move forward”
But if all this positivity is the answer, why are so many of us anxious, depressed and burned out?
In an increasingly woke world, it’s easy to feel that we are not allowed to have opinions on anything anymore. People will read my ‘Be Kind’ comments above and not like what I am saying. If that person refuses to try and understand what it is I mean, then that is on them. Ironically, I mostly see ‘be kind’ used as a response by someone who is being called out for questioning comments or behaviour. Opinions and intelligent debate are not always ‘bullying’ or ‘trolling’.
Feeling sad, bad, depressed, anxious, worried or downhearted doesn’t define you as a person, or even your entire day. We should be able to resonate with our own and shared realities and not feel that it’s something to be hidden or negated by utter dirge we read on the internet posted by someone in denial of their own human emotions.
Positivity is healthy - it’s inspiring, it makes us see a way forward, it gives us hope and examples of human experiences we can see in ourselves and others.