Wednesday’s Washington Post had an interesting article about “toxic positivity”… that term was new to me, but the article made a lot of sense. A positive mental attitude is a good thing, but not if you’re using it to gloss over, ignore or deny underlying issues.

“It’s a problem when people are forced to seem or be positive in situations where it’s not natural or when there’s a problem that legitimately needs to be addressed that can’t be addressed if you don’t deal with the fact that there is distress or need.”

Stephanie Preston, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

“’Looking on the bright side’ in the face of tragedy of dire situations like illness, homelessness, food insecurity, unemployment or racial injustice is a privilege that not all of us have. So promulgating messages of positivity denies a very real sense of despair and hopelessness, and they only serve to alienate and isolate those who are already struggling… “We judge ourselves for feeling pain, sadness, fear, which then produces feelings of things like shame and guilt. We end up just feeling bad about feeling bad.”

Natalie Dattilo, a clinical health psychologist with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston

For the first (and we pray last) time in our lives, we’re dealing with a very trying trifecta:

  1. Coronavirus pandemic
  2. Collapsing economy
  3. Racial inequalities fomenting civil unrest

It’s weighty stuff. And it’s perfectly normal if it weighs you down.

“Recognize that how you feel is valid, no matter what… It’s okay not to be okay.”

Natalie Dattilo

It’s also perfectly fine to spend our pandemic times “one day at a time” instead of some sort of “everything is fine” charade.

“Making the best of it is accepting the situation as it is and doing the best you can with it, whereas toxic positivity is avoidance of the fact that we’re in a really bad situation.”

Jaime Zuckerman, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Philadelphia

So don’t “put on a happy face” if you’re using it to mask some underlying distress that you need to address.