Yes, ‘toxic positivity’ is a thing

Freddy smothering Zeke with toxic positivity. Image credit: KRBE

I saw the headline for this story and immediately thought of Joaquin Phoenix in the movie Joker saying, “Put on a happy face.”

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From Inc. Magazine:

Traditionally we think of toxic people as the moaners, complainers, manipulators, and drama queens who can add so much negativity to our days. These folks are definitely a serious problem, but WaPo’s Allyson Chiu speaks to a number of experts who remind readers that it can be harmful to shove positivity in someone’s face, too.

“It’s a problem when people are forced to seem or be positive in situations where it’s not natural or when there’s a problem that legitimately needs to be addressed that can’t be addressed if you don’t deal with the fact that there is distress or need,” University of Michigan Ann Arbor psychologist Stephanie Preston tells Chiu.

But the warning that the pursuit of happiness can actually be toxic is particularly timely at a moment when so many are dealing with real fear, insecurity, and isolation. Bosses in particular take heed–pushing for smiles from your people right now may be harming rather than helping their mental health.

Chiu’s useful article is well worth reading and goes on to suggest alternatives to toxic positivity for those looking to support loved ones and colleagues who are feeling down. But its most important takeaway in the middle of a pandemic is simply a reminder that cheerfulness can be toxic too, and it’s worth considering whether your well-intentioned pep talks and reassurances might actually be backfiring.

Story source: Inc. Magazine.