Maintaining positivity is important for our wellbeing, notably when getting through challenging times in this pandemic. However, it is important to note that you should allow yourself to feel all your emotions. Repressed emotions deflect our attention from the problem at hand, and don’t give space for self-compassion; This in turn can wire our minds into thinking that those emotions are wrong when in fact they are transient emotions and part of the human experience. Studies have also shown that suppression of feelings can cause more internal psychological stress. Toxic positivity is an avoidance strategy used to push away and invalidate any internal discomfort.
Here are ways to recognise if you’re practicing toxic positivity:
- Depreciating other people’s experiences with “feel good” quotes or statement
- Shaming or chastising others for expressing frustration or anything other than positivity
- Feeling guilty for feeling what you feel
- Hiding/Masking your genuine feelings
- Trying to give someone perspective (e.g., “it could be worse”) instead of validating their emotional experience
- Trying to “just get on with it”
- Brushing off things that are bothering you with an “It is what it is” mentality
Unlike toxic positivity, genuine optimism allows you to respond to life instead of trying to control it. It lets you use your wisdom to aid in building positive habits that feel great, but sequentially, help you and the people around you enjoy more health, greater success, stronger relationships, and even more lasting life.
We can use the study of positive psychology to understand more about how we achieve this mindset. The PERMA model is widely recognized and prominent in positive psychology. Seligman recommended this model to help explain and define wellbeing in greater depth.
PERMA is an acronym for the five aspects of wellbeing according to Seligman:
P – Positive Emotions: Part of wellbeing is enjoying yourself in the moment
E – Engagement: It’s hard to have a developed sense of wellbeing if you are not truly engaged in anything you do
R – (Positive) Relationships: Humans are social creatures, and having deep, significant relationships with others is essential to our wellbeing;
M – Meaning: When we commit ourselves to a cause or recognize something greater than ourselves, we endure a sense of meaning that there is simply no replacement for;
A – Accomplishment / Achievement: We all flourish when we are succeeding, achieving our goals, and improving ourselves.
This model gives us a comprehensive structure for understanding wellbeing as well as grounds for improving wellbeing. If you’re looking to heighten your sense of authentic happiness and wellbeing, all you need to do is direct your focus on:
- Keep your focus on accomplishing your goals—but don’t focus too hard; try to keep your ambition in balance with all of the other important things in life (Seligman, 2011).
- Improve the quality (and/or quantity) of your relationships with others; work on building more positive and supportive relationships with your friends, family, and significant other(s)
- Working on boosting your engagement; pursue hobbies that interest you and strengthen your skills
- Seek out meaning; if you don’t find it through your work, look for it in volunteering opportunities, personal hobbies or leisure activities, or acting as a mentor for others;
- Experiencing more positive emotions; do more of the things that make you happy, and bring enjoyment into your daily routine;
By Saule Pakenaite, Junior Leadership Team