Toxic positivity is essentially the idea that happy and positive is the only right way to be, and therefore, people need to cheer up, look on the bright side, think positive, choose happiness, allow good vibes only, etc., etc.
It also shows up in the “it could be worse” guilt trip mentality. You’re not in ICU on a ventilator right now, so whatever your problem is, it could be worse.
I call bullshit.
It could always be worse
There is no officially designated worst possible human problem. So really, it could always be worse. By the same token, it could always be better. So what? It’s not a competition where only the shittiest problem gets to wear the shit crown, and everyone else has to be happy until the end of time. The fact that someone else has it worse does not make your own problem any less shitty, nor does it make you less entitled to feel shitty about your shitty problem.
Trying to suppress emotions because we don’t think we’re entitled to feel them really doesn’t work very well. Instead, what if you were to just allow those feelings to be there? Make room for them, allow them to do their unhappy dance, and then let them fade on into the background. If you start getting the guest bedroom set up so the negative feelings can have a more permanent home, that’s probably not so good. But allowing yourself to feel the feels in the moment is a good thing.
Why should you only have positive feels?
Negative feels can also co-exist with positive feels. You can be grateful for what you do have, and that you don’t have the worst problem in the world, but gratitude doesn’t preclude having negative feelings at the same time. Some people say it does, but I take time every day to be mindfully grateful and it’s not some magic bullet that makes all of the bad stuff go away. And that’s fine. We’re complex creatures, and we can have positive and negative going on at the same time.
And while apparently we’re supposed to choose happiness, why should that be the only desirable emotion? As human beings we’ve got a wide emotional repertoire, so why should only one emotion be acceptable? If one of my guinea pigs died and my response was to feel happy, that would be a problem. We have so many emotional options because we’re faced with a lot of different situations. Not feeling happy doesn’t make you somehow less than.
Your feelings are valid
So if you’re one of what seems to be many people feeling a bit guilty about having problems and negative feels during this global pandemic, it’s okay that you’ve got stuff going on that prevents you from jumping over the moon with endless gratitude that you’re not on a ventilator. Your problems, and your feels, are still valid.
On the other side of the coin, what if you are feeling good right now even while the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket? That is just as valid. You don’t have to feel down just because other people are struggling, or feel guilty for feeling positive.
What I’m really trying to say is you do you. However you feel, don’t feel, think, don’t think – it’s all okay. Let go of the should monster, and allow yourself to be however you happen to be right now.
The COVID-19/Mental Health Coping Toolkit page has a wide range of resources to support better mental health and wellbeing.