Toxic Positivity and Reckless Optimism

Julia Maher ’23

Opinions Editor

During the coronavirus pandemic especially, many of us have heard advice on how to stay positive during a time of turmoil. While a positive mindset is a mostly good thing to adopt, it can easily enter a territory of toxicity. Toxic positivity is the fake happiness that our society expects us to feel even during times of unprecedented loss, like the pandemic. 

Some phrases that advocate for toxic positivity are “Just stay positive,” “Look on the bright side,” “Cheer up,” or “Be grateful for what you do have.” People who say these often have a sense of superiority to other people because they believe that they are emotionally stronger than those who allow themselves to feel all of the emotions.

During a time of uncertainty, high levels of mental illness, and over a million lives lost due to the pandemic, this attitude is absolutely not appropriate. We need to give ourselves and others the space to feel any type of way because all emotions are totally valid. We need to stop pretending that we can fake it until we make it because nothing about our lives is normal right now. 

Although positivity can be helpful sometimes, it is absolutely necessary to give ourselves ample time to grieve and feel a wide range of emotions before we can feel genuinely happy. If we do not allow ourselves to express anger, sadness, or any other emotion, then we will never achieve true positivity or happiness.

An alternative to toxic positivity is called reckless optimism, which means that we should allow ourselves to process all of the negativity that we feel, and then we can adopt a more optimistic mindset once we have given ourselves enough respectful space to feel. 

The main difference between toxic positivity and reckless optimism is that toxic positivity does not allow us to process all of the terrible things that are happening right now. We are experiencing election stress on top of pandemic stress, so the least we can do is allow ourselves to process and grieve as much as necessary. 

An easy way to do this is to give yourself a day or even a week to just feel whatever emotions you need to. Then, once this period is over, you can move past that negativity and assume a more optimistic mindset. This is a much more appropriate attitude to have regarding emotions during a pandemic and a crucial election for the history of our country. We all need to give ourselves the grace to feel because feeling is elemental to being human.

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