A dear friend messaged that her mother had been diagnosed with cancer. I was stunned. I have known her lovely mother for years. She would send pasta and idli for me when I was pregnant.
I wanted to say something meaningful to my friend to convey that I understood her pain and that I am here if she needed to decompress. It is a painful situation for her family and me. But I was dumbfounded. So I sought advice from another friend. Even before I could finish, she shot at me, “Positivity, Medha! Tell her to focus on the good things.” Doesn’t really help.
Sometimes, you just can’t tell people to ‘stay positive’ when it is humanly impossible. It forced me to think: Are we nodding our head at relentless positivity for fear of coming across as negative? While positivity is a great trait to have, to repeat ‘stay positive’ ad nauseam is purely silly.
There is even a name for it: Toxic positivity. According to Delhi-based clinical psychologist Poonam Sharma, toxic positivity “tends to silence the human emotions”. It is a misplaced belief that a disregard for the “negative emotions or problems will make life happier”. Sorry to break it to you, it doesn’t. Recognising problems for what they are and working to improve the situation might.
3 Reasons to Drop Toxic Positivity Now!
Allow me to say I am an optimistic person. I don’t revel in misery or negativity. But an excess of everything is terrible, positivity included. As spiritual leader Om Swami would say, practice everything in quantity “just right”. We might think our perennial positivity phrases help people snap out of their not-so-happy state; they do not. It only undermines their experiences, shames them and pushes them away from us, sometimes into a dark space. So hold that whiplash of positivity platitudes because:
1) It’s truly insensitive!: If I did tell my friend to ‘focus on the positive’ upon discovering that her mother has cancer, I would just suffocate her with an unreal expectation.
2) It pushes them into seclusion: A former colleague is looking for a boyfriend. Many friends have given her “love yourself” and other such phrases. “Loving myself is not exclusive to wanting a companion,” says she, “But I hear this so often that I don’t discuss it with anyone now.” See the problem here? No matter how well-intentioned our ‘look for the silver lining’ catchphrase is, it pushes people into seclusion if we disregard their feelings.
3) It affects mental health: A friend is unhappy with his job. What does he hear all the time? “Be thankful that you at least have a job!” Having gratitude is a great way of living life. Disregarding real problems? Not so much. Let’s not shame people for their circumstances or force them to bottle up their emotions.
3 Ways to Stop Being Annoyingly Positive
To avoid doing more harm than good with well-meaning super-positivity, I decided to check myself before giving out a ‘look at the positive’ kinda response. Toxic positivity could even be a flawed way to deal with life problems. Here are my three very simple ways to become positively positive from toxic positive:
1) Empathise, hear them out: What sets us apart from other creatures is our ability to experience and express emotions. When someone has a heart-to-heart with me, I don’t feel pressured to say something instantly. Sometimes, people just want to let it out of their systems by sharing. All they want is to have someone hear them out.
2) Acknowledge life can be tough: There will be several problems, such is the nature of life. My refusal to ‘see’ a friend’s problem only exacerbates their agony. Denial doesn’t help. According to a 2018 study, acceptance of negative emotions has been linked with greater psychological health.
3) Use the right words: Instead of blurting out ‘life is good’, ‘stay positive’, ‘it could be worse’, ‘look at the bright side’, ‘whatever happens, happens for good’, ‘don’t be so negative’, ‘be thankful you have…’ et cetera, I choose to say things which might actually help. For instance: ‘How can I help’, ‘Do you want to talk about it’, ‘I’m here if you need me’, ‘Life can be hard, I understand’, ‘I get you’… You get the drift.
Let me remind you, it’s great to be an optimist. But sometimes, we should show kindness by listening to what the other person is saying instead of reminding them about positivity
Before I share some OSME or awesome reads, this Weekly Wednesday post serves a quote first.
Quote of the Week
Here are more ways to be a better person. A pick of os.me reads:
The Most Powerful Secret in the Universe: Screenwriter and author Mahendra Jakhar points out that self-love is the most urgent love that the universe needs right now. Neglecting oneself might manifest as cancer. Do not feel guilty about loving yourself. Jakhar shares a few tips on the matter.
7 Powerful Cal Newport Inspired Ways to Reduce Anxiety: What makes Amardeep S Parmar’s writings such a hit? His ability to distil complex ideas and serve them as an accessible guide. In this blog, he offers seven ways to deal with anxiety after testing and tweaking for the best result.
If an All-Loving God Exists, Why is There Suffering: This is the question that has filled our minds many a time. In this blog, Ashutosh Om offers a few reasons for it. It all makes sense now.
Love Can Melt Even a Heart of Steel: If you had one last chance to say something to the one who murdered your loved one, what would you say? The answer of the father of a young girl who was murdered mercilessly reveals a lot about love.
Select Quotes of Ram Dass: Harvard psychology professor into psychedelic drugs to a spiritual teacher, the transformation and life of Ram Dass has guided many paths to truth. In this blog, Nalin shares 25 quotes of Ram Dass perfect to be the light on your life journey.
Householder or Sanyasi – Does It Make a Difference: Is sannyasa the only path to enlightenment — wonders householder Akshay Iyer. He reveals his answer through a beautiful story and his own truth.
The Art of Receiving: We focus on perfecting the art of giving so much that we forget to learn how to receive. Malini Bharath wonders if there is a way of receiving we can learn so that we can give when we receive? If you struggle with accepting help or compliments, give this blog a read.
Although we have our own YouTube channel for all the wisdom, spiritual knowledge, and great conversations, I am sharing this video because it is so hygge!
Wisdom from Swamiji
The Worst Disease: What illness dries you, hollows you and weakens you from the core? It’s not cancer, it’s even worse. Spiritual leader Om Swami reveals the worst possible disease — the seed of depression, anxiety, negativity, in short, most of human suffering. In his signature style, he also offers the vaccine and the medicine to deal with it.
The Feeling of Emptiness: The emotion of emptiness is not connected with what all you have within your reach. It’s about your center of bliss, writes spiritual leader Om Swami. In the dark night of the soul, when you lose your own reflection, when aching emptiness becomes unbearable loneliness… Come back to read this article!What illness dries you, hollows you and weakens you from the core? It's not cancer, it's even worse? Let spiritual leader Om Swami answer that + Other fantastic reads. tell a friend
If you are wondering what I said to my friend, I told her it was a difficult situation for her and everyone, that I was not expecting something like this to happen, and that I am always here for her… When I need to choose between unflappable perky and acknowledging their grief, I ask myself, ‘What’s kinder?’ Know what? It’s ok to not be ok.
PS: Do you think the Marshmello + Demi Lovato song in the end should have been the video of the week instead?