28 Jun 2023 ///

‘Don’t’ Worry, Be Happy’ – why toxic positivity can be a hindrance to living an authentic life

Picture this – or maybe you don’t have to given the unruly times we’re living in –  your life is in shambles. You know kinda like those off seasons, the ones Ms Lana Del Rey refers to as the ‘winter of my life’? The ones where you feel like you simply just can’t seem to catch a break, not even to catch your breath. You are thoroughly going through it! And at every damn dawn, every turn, every attempt ziyakhala

*let’s out the loudest scream* 

So like the sensible young G that you are, you decide “noh man lemme call my chom’ just to blow off some steam, you know”  – after all you can’t keep all that bottled up right? Stress is a slow killer they say. It’s also bad for your skin, hair, nails and gut and yes, I know these are all very vain side effects to focus on considering there’s the very serious connections found between strokes, heart attacks and depression, as stated by heart.org which highlights the effects of stress on the physical body. A girl is just trying not to look like her problems right, what about my sdima dammit?With all that said, you finally get a hold of your good homie who in comparison to you, is straight cruising through life  – your yoga and daily mantra queen. Perhaps some of that love and light may rub off on you, but perhaps not? At least until you are slapped with yet another regurgitation of an insta post type of advice, You know my friend, just focus on the positive, when life hands you lemons you must make lemonade’ No Clarissa! No!

Madison Oren, Unsplash

Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash

What I need is a bottle of tequila gold neat, for every lemon life chooses to throw at me! Hao! I don’t know about you but personally, I’m so over this ‘don’t worry be happy’ mentality people keep trying to garnish over every damn problem that occurs. Some shit needs concern…and sometimes a hell of a lot of it. ‘Chin up’, ‘brush it off’,’everything happens for a reason’ residents of the ‘good vibes only’ and ‘no complaining zone’ can all go f*#k the hell off! This is real life and in real life I can’t simply ignore the fact that life is a certified bad bitch – not just on Saturdays, like everyday – and she throws hands more often than bodak yellow era Cardi B. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no ‘Debbie-downer’, I’m just trying to be realistic and  live a balanced life. We’ve all heard the saying ‘you can’t have too much of a good thing’ well that includes positivity. Yes my dhiye, too much love and light is dare I say it…can be toxic. When we deny the very real feelings and experiences of ourselves and others, we are setting ourselves up to only measure life based on how ‘good’ it is. We don’t learn to inhabit the strength and resilience gained from the inevitable challenges that we experience. Life is complex, and our experiences are always going to be a dance between the good, bad, the ugly and the beautiful. Toxic positivity is when we have to shirk everything that isn’t deemed ‘positive’, and therefore we are living in alignment with one of the human experiences. 

As true and as pure as the intentions of the good vibes only movement are, I think this is still considered a coping mechanism or a trauma response. Bad things happen to good people all the time and we can’t keep brushing that reality under the carpet. Doing this can feel completely invalidating our emotions and our human experience –  at times, it feels like we’re shoving invisible happy pills down each other’s throats.

Keagan Henman, Unsplash

Sometimes, in order to heal and to cope, it’s necessary to sit with your issues and your experiences, process your trauma’s and give yourself time to process whatever it is you’re going through. Never taking heed of the negative, results in us undervaluing the importance of these seasons in our lives. It minimises the experience, the voice of hurt gets silenced and invalidated again and again, and before you know it you have your shadow self beefing or contemplating  pulling a Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’  for all the years of torment you’ve caused. 

Truth is, there’s no good way to repress your life, only so many ways to gaslight yourself into thinking it’s greater than it really is and truth be told there’s only so much a good front – or as I like to call it ‘it could be worse’ face – can gain you. If you’re willing to get uncomfortable – really uncomfortable – there’s something better beyond the hurt and darkness. Something worth fighting for. 

According to a study by the National Library of Medicine, it’s more beneficial to accept negative emotions rather than judge, dismiss or avoid them. To paraphrase, their stance suggests that, “individuals who accept rather than judge their mental experiences may attain better psychological health, in part because acceptance helps them experience less negative emotion in response to stressors.”

Nik, Unsplash

Loneliness, for example, is a reminder of the importance of relationships, possibly a way to help us find better and healthier ways to explore them when faced with it. 

Something that I think we could all consider taking into account during these times, is practising mindfulness – of where we are, how we’re feeling and what we’re going through. Being able to not only identify but face your feelings is a bloody superpower, a marvellous one! Think of yourself as the Hulk. You are incredible despite all the bad and good that comes and goes throughout your life. Being present is literally a gift from you to yourself and learning to be present in the thick of our emotions is a seriously important skill. What’s the point of only looking on the bright side, besides, didn’t doctors tell us that’s bad for our eyesight? 

Take a different perspective, make your problems do a little twirl for you so you can see this shit clearly. And validate your emotions dammit. There’s no need to lie to yourself. EXPRESS YOURSELF HONEEEY! And not just the good parts either! I wanna see that summertime sadness, winter time madness, listen, EVERYTHING! 

You’re not only great when you’re good. You’re great just being you and that’s what you deserve. To be you, fully!

Written by: Thandiwe Magwaza

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