OPINION: Let's talk about toxic positivity

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Carly Markovich | The Daily Wildcat

Photo Illustration: A University of Arizona student forces a smile illustrating the frustrations students face to remain positive and ignore all negative emotions. 

Opening up and sharing our true emotions can be an uncomfortable thing to do. We share how we feel and are told to "focus on the good" or to "not be so negative." In many cases, instead of being heard, we are made to feel like it’s our job to turn everything around and "be positive."

Emotions and feelings are important. Masking them and pushing them to the side can be more harmful than one might think. We don’t have to be positive all of the time, all emotions are valid. We don’t always have to put on a positive face and pretend that everything is okay when in reality that’s not how we truly feel.

As humans, we experience a wide range of emotions depending on our current life situation. Our thoughts, feelings and emotions are part of what makes us human and they help us to connect with each other.

When it comes to feelings, happiness, optimism, hopefulness and excitement are typically labeled as positive emotions, and feelings such as sadness, stress and anger are labeled as negative emotions. Our society has become fixated on "good vibes only" to the point where some individuals are afraid to feel anything other than positive emotions. 

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Bottling up emotions and putting on a positive front no matter what is happening around us can be harmful. Research done by the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Minnesota showed that bottling up and not acknowledging feelings can make people more aggressive. 

Phrases such as "look on the bright side" and "stay positive" have good intentions, but they contribute to toxic positivity. Medical News Today explained the phenomena like this: “Toxic positivity is an obsession with positive thinking. It is the belief that people should put a positive spin on all experiences, even those that are profoundly tragic.” 

Toxic positivity leads people to believe that they need to always be positive and ignore all other emotions. When it comes to emotions and feelings, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. When we mask our feelings and try to be positive no matter what is happening in our lives we are invalidating ourselves and our emotions. 

It’s also important to listen to others and not invalidate their feelings. When others share their feelings and what they are going through, saying phrases such as, "things could be worse," "look on the bright side" and "stop being negative," can make it seem as if their emotions don't matter. 

Talking about our emotions, both positive and negative, is beneficial for us and can help our brains process what we are feeling easier. When others open up and share their feelings, the best thing we can do is listen and show them that they are heard. Responding with phrases such as "that must be hard for you" and "I’m here for you" will show more emotional validation. 

Bottling up the feelings society has labeled as negative and pretending that they don’t exist won’t make us happier in the long run. Putting a positive spin on situations won’t make them disappear. Acknowledging and validating feelings is what’s important, all human emotions are valid, not just the good ones.


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Julianna is a senior majoring in journalism and sociology. She enjoys writing and reporting on topics related to mental and physical health and wellness.


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