A positive mental attitude is a more fitting solution for embracing the good and bad of life
By Alexis Zygan, Staff Writer
Chronic happiness, for the sake of others, does not miraculously balance serotonin.
A positive mental attitude (PMA) embraces an optimistic perspective on life, as introduced by author Napoleon Hill in his book Think and Grow Rich. Training the mind for positive thinking improves the quality of life, however, there exists a community that pushes toxic positivity by forbidding any negative emotions. When on a personal development journey, transforming a negative thought into a positive one has shown enormous physical and mental health benefits. This task can be achievable through meditation and self-reflection. At the same time, a PMA recognizes that an array of emotions is part of the human experience, and some days we feel blue.
Humans are vulnerable. When circumstances such as job loss, heartbreak, and bullying occur, no good vibes reduce the pain and sorrow. Toxic positivity is the outcome of a dysfunctional relationship with positive thinking; in contrast, a PMA encourages believing in ourselves, staying focused on goals, and developing resilience so we can bounce back after taking time alone or with a mental health specialist to process emotions.
Toxic positivity is an unhealthy coping mechanism that aims to escape any negative feelings by repeating affirmations and diminishing personal problems, at the same time as not allowing space for emotions such as sadness, grief, and anxiety. Smiling feels incredible because of the feel-good endorphins the brain releases. So, when we feel blue, standing in front of the mirror with a smile is a natural antidepressant. That said, there is such a thing as smiling depression. On the outside, a person may appear giddy even when they feel hopeless and lonely. Once the persistent emptiness is acknowledged, they can access mental health support from a counsellor and psychiatrist.
Toxic positivity culture prevents people with depression from ever reaching the counsellor’s door on account of the belief that positivity cures all affliction. The community promoting toxic positivity is not inherently harmful or spiteful. In some cases, they are merely blissfully ignorant to circumstances where positivity is an impracticable solution, such as after experiencing traumatic events that restructure brain chemistry. When a person responds with “good vibes only,” or “think happy thoughts,” to a friend in a crisis, their well-meaning comment is a microaggression that further stigmatizes mental illness. Chronic happiness, for the sake of others, does not miraculously balance serotonin.
There is a fine line between using positivity to overcome negative emotions through a positive mental attitude versus using positivity to avoid negative emotions. Even though self-help gurus preach how our thoughts become our reality, the intersection of trauma and mental illness forms positivity barriers. If you are the person always saying “cheer up, there is nothing to be sad about,” to a mentally ill friend, consider that the advice may be doing more harm than good. It might be more beneficial to offer your time by letting them express their feelings. Then afterwards, thank them for sharing and end the conversation unless they specifically ask for advice.
We need to stop using toxic positivity as a method to avoid dealing with negative emotions. Positivity can only mask so much when it comes to uncomfortable feelings. Admitting that we feel depressed or anxious is healthy. Once we know where we stand emotionally, we can work towards feeling happier by setting goals and building self-esteem.