My Happy Today: Toxic Positivity?
When the pandemic hit last March, like others I was thrown into a state of uncertainty. My routines- like using my daily planner/journal — went out the window. I’ve actually only now just realized the impact of abandoning my daily planner/journal. My days became very simple and I found that even though I was unsettled with the state of the world, I was acutely more aware of the little things that made me happy during the day. I started calling them “my happy today” and shared them on Facebook and Instagram. Friends reacted positively to my posts and I felt like I was helping others be a bit more positive. It also felt authentic for me. I consider myself a generally positive person. I’m pretty aware of my state of mind because like many I have had a few periods of depression in my life. I know when I’m headed into one of those periods and what I need to do to start the journey back out. I need to be aware of the negative and the positive.
I have continued to post “my happy today” but I do not post one every day. I never posted one every day. That said, I also never posted “my unhappy today” or “there was no happy today.” I do not for one minute think that anyone would think I had a great day every day or that I notice the little things that make me happy every single day. I do not think I am toxically positive. Is that even a thing?
Yesterday I walked with a friend — my happy today — and she told me about a podcast on toxic positivity. We laughed that maybe I should post “full outta happy today” or “no f-ing happy today” once and awhile. I decided to listen to the podcast myself. Nora McInerny hosts a podcast called “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” which I highly recommend. She recently spoke with Susan David, Ph. D., a Harvard Medical School Instructor in psychology. Here is a link to the podcast https://www.ttfa.org/episode/2020/12/01/whats-negative-about-positivity
The podcast is worth a listen, especially for our youth who have grown up in a world that makes them believe everyone is happy all the time, and for people in my generation (50s) who were often told to “just get over it.” Susan has been leading the conversation about toxic positivity and the value of *all our feelings* and how no emotion is bad or good. Toxic positivity is the feeling of acting happy or cheerful when you’re really not. It’s that fake kind of happiness people say to you like “Just cheer up!” or “It’ll get better, don’t worry,” when something really bad happened to you. Another friend and I often laugh about the “just get over it advice” people give. Our response is “Oh my gosh, get over it. Of course! Why didn’t I think of that? Silly me!”
Susan David’s work acknowledges the benefits of sadness, anger, guilt, and fear, and then shows us how to make sure they don’t take over our lives. Her work found that our emotions- fear, anger, sadness- tell us what we value. We need to acknowledge all our feelings -the happy, sad, mad- in order to move through life. We need to acknowledge the positive but when we tell people to only be positive, we are telling them we don’t want to be uncomfortable and that we don’t care about their discomfort.
I agree that there can be something off-putting about a person who is always happy and never has a bad day. I get mad when someone tells me to “just get over it.” I am not that person but I choose to not share “my unhappy today” with the world. I have people in my life that I can share my unhappy emotions with and I do it on a regular basis. Those people help me process and navigate. I hope you have those people in your life. We all need them. We need others to help us gain perspective and to work through things out loud. Sometimes I publicly share things that aren’t so positive- like the fact that I cope and thrive despite periods of depression — because I do think others benefit from knowing they are not alone and sometimes talking to a stranger is easier than talking to friend. That said, I do not see the benefit of publicly sharing “my unhappy today.” I do believe there is a benefit to posting “my happy today” even if it only makes one other person see that it is often a small little seemingly insignificant thing can change your day. I’ll keep doing that even at the risk of someone thinking I am toxically positive.