Girl Online: The Downside of Positivity Culture

You see them everywhere. Those little journals that have you write down the answer to “one question a day” for five years or “something you did that made you happy.” Or books telling you how to always be in good spirits when everything might not be going so great. Or Instagram accounts with inspirational quotes. Or incense, face masks, meditation — whatever new fad is the new and improved path to eternal joy. Our society has been plagued by an obsession with encouraging endless positive thought as the key to a good life. Outside influences, especially things that we see on social media, are telling us that we must be happy all the time. And if we aren’t? We just need to try harder, and eventually we’ll get there.

Positivity culture on social media accomplishes the total opposite of what it is supposed to. I want to state that I am absolutely not saying that positive thought is a bad thing, because if we all looked at the world through a lens of doom and gloom, the world would be a much worse place. I’m talking about the way we interact — where we are overwhelmingly positive to the point we are not validating other people’s emotions. Our society expects us to put on a front for everything that we do, and it’s become seen by the public eye as shameful to be completely candid about our true emotions. Positivity culture shames those with mental illness when people say that if they just try, things will get better; in reality treatment for those conditions takes a lot more than essential oils and #goodvibes.

Consumer culture also plays a role in toxic positivity. In stores we see things to purchase that promise to be something that helps you achieve a state of nirvana. But these items that we associate with self-care are usually expensive, meaning that they are more accessible to people with privilege. 

When people publicly talk about the negative things that happen in their life, it seems to always come in the form of a big social media announcement that elicits sympathy and “it will get better!” There shouldn’t have to be a big announcement about how we are feeling, and it’s a huge problem that there is a society wide stigma against frankly, real life. When we were younger we were taught how to be kind, which corresponds with being respectful. We’re also taught that talking about certain things or asking certain types of questions is seen as invasive or disrespectful. These two things combined lead to us not being given the tools to be able to support people properly, because subconsciously we see asking about the details of each other’s lives as uncomfortable.

So let’s have open dialogue to the level that we’re comfortable with! And as a community, let’s find ways to support each other besides telling them that things will be okay if they just tried a little bit harder.