Positive Thinking: Is There Such Thing as Too Much of a Good Thing?
That person who infallibly chirps, “everything happens for a reason!” during the worst moments of your life is just asking to be tarred and feathered. And yet, on the other hand, “the power of positive thinking” is commonly heard on everything from exam-taking tips to getting a good parking spot.
Not all of us are programmed to respond to life’s curveballs by immediately looking for the silver lining. Does that mean we’re destined to go through life like Oscar the Grouch, or is there really such a thing as too much positive thinking?
According to Brene Brown, the author of bestsellers like Daring Greatly and Dare to Lead, yes—and she’s not alone in her thinking. Too much positive thinking results in stuffing down our emotions and letting them fester, until they eventually explode.
“Toxic positivity” is every bit as bad as going through life only focusing on the negative. Before you spontaneously combust from replacing your negative feelings with inspirational quotes, learn more about how to recognize when you’ve got too much of a good thing.
When a positive attitude becomes a bad thing
If you’re always the first to look for a silver lining in bad situations, that might be a good thing—but when it leads you to ignore problems or gives you unrealistic expectations, it starts to become toxic. The problem is, if you only focus on the good in life, you’ll be depriving yourself of the opportunity to process your negative emotions as they occur. You also run the risk of becoming complacent, neglecting your health and straining your relationships.
Signs that you’re a little too Mary Sunshine make sense once you learn to spot them. For example, you might be overcommitting yourself to various activities, causes and other commitments without regard for how much time and energy you really have. When you overcommit and run yourself ragged, you’re not only taking a toll on your mental health, but your physical health as well.
You might also find yourself avoiding doing certain tasks or dealing with negative situations because, well, “good vibes only,” right? This can manifest in everything from putting off unpleasant tasks to having hard conversations with your partner, family and friends. No one particularly enjoys having heavy discussions, but emotionally healthy people realize that it’s something that must be done from time to time. Or, you could convince yourself that a relationship is going better than it is, which makes you an easy target for abusers. Sometimes embracing the reality of a bad situation is better than trying to put a positive spin on it.
Toxic positivity can also make it easier for you to get trapped inside your own thoughts. All-or-nothing thinking like “everything happens for a reason” can easily balloon into “I deserved this” or “if I couldn’t have prevented this, what’s the point?” Toxically positive people find themselves overthinking everything, trying to find the silver lining in situations that may not have one.
How to balance positivity with our modern world
Social media has made toxic positivity all too easy to get sucked into. Between the inspirational quotes and the carefully curated views of others’ lives, it’s far too easy to get sucked into a toxically positive mindset.
One way to combat this is to either limit your social media time, or find a way to stop keeping score—don’t look to others to measure how happy you should be at any given time. Even if everyone else looks like they’re having a great time making pandemic sourdough and artisanal cheeses, you’re also not seeing the drool on their faces when they fall asleep on their keyboards during a Zoom meeting.
More importantly, you need to get comfortable with the fact that you just might not be happy all the time. It’s not possible for any human, so when negative feelings and situations happen, you must give yourself permission to feel bad for a while. Millions of people are currently dealing with unemployment, are uninsured and facing mounting bills as the pandemic passes—would you tell them “everything happens for a reason?” Probably not, so why require that sort of response from yourself?
Don’t get us wrong—a positive attitude is a good thing, especially in the face of adversity. But like ice cream, alcohol and America’s Next Top Model, there really can be too much of a good thing.