When "Just Be Happy!" isn't an option.
Having an upbeat or positive opinion about life can be a healthy way to live. Almost everyone I know has that friend that always looks on the bright side of any situation. (Hint, if you don't have a friend like that, it might be you.)
Relentless optimism has a place. It can remind us to recognize that many situations are temporary. Things can and often do get better. But there are times and places, where it may actually be detrimental. The results of a surprising study on “a culture of happiness” found that in some situations, a positive message can help prolong the time we spend thinking about failure.
That's right, upbeat messages can actually increase how long we dwell on what's gone wrong. It's known as “toxic positivity.” Telling someone to “Be Happy!” or “Move On!” may make them sink deeper into despair. Here's how to recognize when a happy outlook turns toxic.
Accept that sometimes you'll feel sad. Moods can change based on your circumstances. Sometimes bad things happen and they can affect us. You're not going to magically feel better if somebody says, “Cheer up!”
Spend some time acknowledging you feel bad, so you can deal with the emotions that go along with it. Process it and move on. If you find yourself stuck in a negative spiral, search out people and activities that can help you feel better. It may not be an all or nothing situation. Make a plan; then spend your time working the plan and begin moving through the pain.
Don't force your emotional wishes on someone else. Making it all about you is a selfish move. You can't demand that your friends and loved ones “be happy all the time” because it's not realistic. Just like you need to process bad things, so do the people around you. Give them the time and space to do that.
Be honest about the situation you're in. Relationships end, friends leave and businesses fail. Sometimes life just deals you a crappy hand. Avoiding the reality of those situations won't help you deal with them. Acting like there's nothing wrong can prevent you from taking the necessary steps to move forward.
Take a look and really consider what's gone wrong. Then share that information with the people around you. If everyone around you is ignoring the obvious, you may find out they don't know what's happening. Once everyone understands, you can work together to map out a strategy and either fix it or move past it.
Don't use bad things (or the threat of bad things) to keep people away. To truly open up and become close to someone, you've got to trust them. Keeping people at a distance can prevent them from hurting you or seeing your flaws, but it also creates a wall that stops intimacy. Share with the people close to you and build a bond of trust.
Understand that giving up can be a legitimate strategy. Some situations are beyond fixing, but in today's success oriented culture, quitting one thing can make you think you're a failure at everything.
Stop beating yourself up trying to make everything work. Figure out the best outcome you think is achievable and take action. Explore alternatives. If you need to give up something to preserve your sanity, accept that solution and quit. Then take the time that just freed up and see what things you can achieve.
Writing about this culture of “toxic positivity” got me thinking. At least once or twice a week I like to post sayings and pictures online to motivate the people in my life. I am neither a doctor or therapist, just someone who's sharing things that have helped me deal with my piece of the world. What's been successful for me, may not work for you.
Real life is complicated, sometimes feelings get hurt and it's not always going to turn out great. Try to use those situations to learn and grow, and you'll emerge stronger when it's over. I wish you an interesting journey.
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