Toxic positivity has become more of a topic of conversation in the clinical world and in the world of feelings in the past couple of years. Toxic positivity has become the dark side of positive vibes as defined by The Psychology Group. “We define toxic positivity as the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience,” (thepsychologygroup.com).
In a society that is striving to achieve happiness and be more positive, are we substituting negative emotions with this good vibes only mantra?
It is worth a look into, for sure.
Gratitude has become a new aged way of life and way to create happiness. Gratitude is defined by the Dictionary.com as, “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Products, instructors, and practices are churning out goods and services to guide individuals to center in gratitude as a way to preserve our peace, reframe our thinking, and ultimately live happier lives.
Is gratitude too, invalidating the negative experiences we as humans encounter?
Gratitude acts as an escape door out of the bad, out of the comparison trap, and out of the negative thinking we often find ourselves stuck in. Gratitude is not the same as toxic positivity as it does not invalidate negative experiences and emotions, but rather allows us the space to observe our thoughts, feelings, and emotions in a clearer way.
It is part of the human experience to have good and bad days.
It is part of the human experience to have good experiences and bad experiences.
It is part of the human experience to have good emotions and negative emotions.
Allowing oneself to center in gratitude allows us to feel our negative emotions, validate a negative situation that happened and choosing to center ourselves in things that bring us joy during challenging situations. Gratitude allows the individual to live a dual emotion life where we acknowledge the difficult event and emotions while also acknowledging the things that bring us joy, peace, and calm.
Toxic positivity invalidates these hard life experiences with narratives such as, “it could always be worse,” “someone else has it harder,” and “it is what it is.” These narratives show up in our dialogue with ourselves as well as in our interactions with others. Toxic positivity has a way of masking the difficult situations with feel good now language and actions as a means to end our suffering.
Toxic positivity can also be the shame initiator of gratitude. Toxic positivity would lead one to believe that by feeling negative emotions they are ungrateful while gratitude allows space for the good and the bad experiences. Allowing oneself to acknowledge negative experiences does not equal ungratefulness. Maybe you heard this narrative in your childhood, you did not get the present for Christmas that was your most wished for present and your parent responds, “you are so ungrateful, be grateful for what you have.” These narratives convey that gratitude is an all or nothing experience.
Gratitude is not an all or nothing experience. Using the example above, you can be both upset you did not get your most wished for gift and grateful for the gifts you did receive.
In adulthood this may present in really wanting a job position you applied for. You worked really hard, this would be a great opportunity, and the pay would change your life. You get the call that you did not get the job. Are you bummed? Of course you are upset. This is a negative experience, a feeling of rejection, and a missed opportunity. Allowing yourself to feel upset about not getting your dream job does not mean you are not grateful for other job opportunities or to currently have a job.
Gratitude allows you to live in the both but shift to the positive. Gratitude allows you to acknowledge that your feelings and emotions can at times be conflicting.
Gratitude is not toxic positivity.
Gratitude is a means of survival.
Allowing ourselves to experience a full human experience is not only surviving the human experience, but thriving in the human experience.
The research shows that gratitude is good for our personal well-being and for our relationships. According to Psychology Today, “Psychologists find that, over time, feeling grateful boosts happiness and fosters both physical and psychological health, even among those already struggling with mental health problems. Studies show that practicing gratitude curbs the use of words expressing negative emotions and shifts inner attention away from such negative emotions as resentment and envy, minimizing the possibility of ruminating, which is a hallmark of depression.”
Psychology Today, went on to explain that those who practice gratitude experience less stress, physical pain, and mental health issues.
In a study from Berkley, it was found that, “gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions.” In their study they found that gratitude practices have positive impacts on individuals well-being as well as makes changes on the brain. “regardless of whether you’re facing serious psychological challenges, if you have never written a gratitude letter before, we encourage you to try it. Much of our time and energy is spent pursuing things we currently don’t have. Gratitude reverses our priorities to help us appreciate the people and things we do.”
Toxic positivity and the good vibes only mantras can be left behind, but our gratitude practices and the services and products that promote gratitude can stick around.
Some ways we can begin practicing gratitude and implementing gratitude into our lives are by:
- Telling the people in your life that you appreciate them and why you are grateful for them
- Pausing to notice the things that brought you joy each day
- Being in nature
- Cooking meals with love and serving your family and friends
- Being mindful of what we are consuming
- Disengaging from negative media
- Spending quality time with the ones we love
- Being strengths focused
- Starting each day with a gratitude practice
Whatever you find that guides you to center in gratitude, make it a good one!