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Orange County School of the Arts

Column: Don’t worry, be happy: A study in toxic positivity culture

“Focus on the good,” “Look on the bright side,” “Good vibes only,” all phrases we hear every day. Meant to keep us appearing positive and successful, ways to convince ourselves, and others, that all is well. Hacks like put a pencil between your teeth to force yourself to smile or even forced positive affirmations can be seen as healthy ways to keep one’s head up, but really, positivity is being pushed to a toxic level, and it’s time to stop.

Toxic positivity is defined by Very Well Mind as “the belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset.” It’s the idea that forcing consistent happiness and suppressing all of one’s negative emotions is the correct way to live life.

Toxic positivity has been a topic of discussion lately, and encouraging a way of life that validates all emotions has become popularized. 

But as all toxic societal phenomenons do, toxic positivity reappeared in a disguise: Gratitude culture.  

Gratitude culture is toxic positivity culture in a costume. A quick google search of “positivity culture” brings up articles about how too much positivity can be harmful, but all of the results for gratitude culture promote it, especially in the workplace. 

Hundreds of articles describe hacks to force gratitude in the workplace. This form of gratitude is influenced by predatory capitalism and bears similarities to companies in silicon valley having all-inclusive office spaces. The goal of these efforts isn’t to improve the well-being of employees, but rather to trick them into working more. Forcing gratitude allows workers to feel like they are working more for the company because they are so grateful to be there but over time, the fakeness will show through and build resentment, according to Greater Good Magazine.   

Outside of the workplace gratitude culture also negatively impacts everyday life in the same way toxic positivity culture does. Think about it: they have the same bottom lines: always looking at the good, no matter the situation, feeling guilty for feeling negative about something, and a focus on quickly moving on from negative emotions. Much like wellness culture is diet culture in disguise, gratitude culture is toxic positivity packaged slightly different and slightly better, but bearing all the same contents. 

Women are also more heavily impacted by toxic positivity and gratuity than men, as women have constant happiness drilled into them from birth. Women have to always be okay with everything. Negative feelings such as anger are unladylike, unappealing, and therefore, banished. 

The moral of the story is, wallowing in sadness isn’t the answer, but neither is forcing happiness, be grateful, but don’t be afraid to feel bad. Notice when society is forcing us to push down our negative emotions and what’s true bliss. Feel everything unapologetically. All vibes only.