Martha Wyatt-Luth ‘25
If there is one thing we can all agree upon, it’s that this year has been far from easy. The global pandemic, natural disasters, and not to mention the countless personal challenges we face every day, are some of the countless burdens on our backs. Honestly, sometimes it’s a miracle we get out of bed in the morning. But all that seems to get lost in the hustle and bustle of the year. We seem to go into autopilot and the challenges seem to be just piling up. Every day we go about the same routine, and it seems every day there is a new assortment of issues. Eventually, there comes a point where we feel squashed by our beastly tower of challenges. We may even feel too small to have the ability to conquer them.
Now, the most obvious solution to this is to tell yourself, “You can do it!” But you may be too exhausted to convince yourself of this unfounded claim. But, despite how it may seem, admitting to yourself how hard these challenges truly are, may help you conquer them. Because it also implies you’ve been able to conquer great adversity in the past.
As we head into this holiday season, it may seem hard to feel cheerful or joyous all the time because of how difficult the year has been. That is okay. If we disregard the difficulty of the year, we may consider our feelings of depression, sadness, or exhaustion as inexcusable. In reality, we all deal with great adversity and must give ourselves praise for facing it head-on.
A negative product of pop culture is the movement for toxic positivity. This dismisses negative emotions with false, unfounded reassurances. I don’t know about you, but when someone tells me to cheer up, I react in the opposite way.
Toxic positivity is not necessarily the result of a half-hearted reply, in fact, many people unintentionally give advice that perpetuates toxic positivity. The phrases “think positive,” “look on the bright side,” and “good vibes only,” are just some of many potentially unhealthy messages that float on the internet. Many of these sayings have become posters that decorate the walls of college dorms. This potentially transforms a seemingly pretty dorm room into a prison of unhealthy thoughts that restrain a person from living a life of full well-being. Now, that may seem dramatic, but the consequences of toxic positivity are certainly real.
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to be the Grinch of Whoville. There are many ways to combat the sad feelings that may arise during the holidays. In fact, optimism and positivity have their time and place that makes them beneficial. But, as clinical health psychologist Natalia Dattilo remarks, toxic positivity is like ice cream: “It’s really good and it makes us feel better, but you can overdo it.” In addition, when you try to push toxic positivity to others, Dattilo says it’s like “trying to shove ice cream into somebody’s face when they don’t feel like having ice cream. That’s not really going to make them feel better.”
In a year with an ongoing deadly pandemic, the phrase “everything will be fine” is completely worthless. Because bad things may happen, likely, they will happen because life is not one continuous joy ride. It’s more helpful to prepare yourself to face adversity by believing that you are capable of overcoming it. In a semi-ironic way, I created a habit in the last few years of telling myself the phrase “It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything’s fine.” Unfortunately, it was just my way of suppressing problems that should have been addressed and would offer me the opportunity to personally develop.
There is a reason we have negative emotions. We aren’t superheroes, and we aren’t invincible. We all have our limits. Acknowledging this is the only way we can look out for our own well-being. In fact, a 2018 study noted that “Acceptance [of emotions] has been linked with greater psychological health,” and that “acceptance helps keep individuals from reacting to—and thus exacerbating—their negative mental experiences.”
When we suppress negative emotions, they may come out in unwanted ways. One notable scene I remember from a “Grey’s Anatomy” episode was when a supporting character, Christina Yang, begins crying uncontrollably. For the first time in likely years, Christina has to actually acknowledge her emotions because she is unable to work due to recovering from surgery. It was a funny, but in the end, sad realization that most of us go through our lives without acknowledging negative emotions because we presume they are debilitating. Eventually, these emotions become so foreign to us, they may be even scary to confront.
This winter break offers an opportunity to reconnect with yourself. Readdress your personal weakness that you work to improve upon. Come together with family and friends, acknowledging the hardships you have all experienced this year. Looking back on your accomplishments will likely seem even more profound now.
So, if there is one thing to take away from this, it’s the message that it’s perfectly normal if you are not always merry or bright. It just makes those moments when you are that much sweeter.