Toxic positivity vs Positive psychology
The third Positive Change for Midlife Lesbians podcast went live yesterday, and the topic is "What if?" As in, what if the thing you are so scared will happen works out okay? Is there a downside to imagining a future for yourself that has a good next chapter?
There are some people out there who had some pretty bad things happen and later reported it as good news. Jim Wright, the speaker of the House of Representatives stepped down amid financial scandal (oh, how times have changed!) later said that it was all for the best. Was he just lying?
There's a difference between masking a negative feeling with a platitude and actually feeling and experiencing and moving through it. Pretending to be happy when you aren't is like slapping a happy face sticker on your fuel guage and pretending that you won't run out of gas.
But, positive psychology research does tell us that we do have some control over our level of happiness, and that there are actual behaviors you can do to improve your happiness set point. You've probably heard of many of them: Keep a gratitude journal, write letters to people who have had a good impact on your life, have a meditation practice, spend time in nature and around animals, even make your bed! Wanting to feel better is natural. Frankly, it's why we humans develop habits and coping strategies such as overeating, drinking too much, leaning on Netflix, and staring for hours at our phones that lead to negative outcomes and make our problems worse.
Toxic posititivity is pretty much what someone else heaps on you. "Cheer up. It can't be that bad." "Look on the bright side." The worst instances are in response to grief and loss, and are clearly a reflection of the toxin-spewer not being able to manage their own feelings about loss. At the risk of sounding toxically positive, they are not evil, just bad at managing their own emotions.
But guess what? You really do get to be in charge of what you think about a circumstance. And sometimes you'll think things suck and sometimes think things are good. What you think determines how you feel. And it really is okay to want to feel better, but if you don't take the time to acknowledge and feel your negative feelings, then you are just slapping a happy sticker on the E of your gas guage.
In the podcast, I'm suggesting that we consider the possibility that things might not suck in the future. There are definitely examples where finding that possibility is maybe not possible. But if there is reason to believe you have time left on this planet, then there may be a chance that things will turn out okay. Jim Wright probably didn't think so in 1989 when he resigned. He lived almost 30 more years after that fall from grace. Maybe we can imagine that in the balance of our years that everything will work out.
If you want some insights from an objective third party, maybe try a free coaching session?
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