The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Opinion | People need to look out for toxic positivity

The surge in positive quotes on social media apps creates a fake facade.
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When we mindlessly scroll through a social media app, such as Instagram or TikTok, we come across posts that say “Be positive” or “Good vibes only” which appear optimistic.

It is hard to pinpoint one post, but the online therapy app BetterHelp has compiled a list of everyday quotes such as, “It could be worse”, “Happiness is a choice” and “Everything happens for a reason.” At the surface level, they are brimming with positivity, but the message they send can have a toxic effect.

It is true that an optimistic mindset aids intrapersonal and interpersonal growth; concurrently, if a superficial level of positivity becomes a way to escape one’s true feelings without evaluating them, then it may be a form of toxic positivity.

There is a stark difference between positivity/optimism and toxic positivity. The American Psychological Association defines optimism as “hopefulness or the attitude that good things will happen and that people’s wishes or aims will ultimately be fulfilled” and optimists as “people who anticipate positive outcomes whether serendipitously or through perseverance and effort.”

On the other hand, toxic positivity as defined by Psychology Today is “an act of avoiding, suppressing or rejecting negative emotions or experiences and insisting on positive thinking instead.” This definition includes the word “avoiding,” which is key because it translates into denial of one’s true feelings.

Toxic positivity on social media creates a bubble of an unrealistic or rather utopian world which is a delusion. An article by psychiatrist J.R. Ram in Telegraph India, describes it as the “burden of being happy” because “TV and social media disseminate a form of propaganda by insisting on and showcasing shiny, creative, fulfilling lives.”

Research links toxic positivity with the risk of developing bipolar disorder due to Positive Emotion Persistence (PEP) or the act of staying happy such that it fails to match the context.

An article in The Scientific American argues that negative emotions are vital parts of our lives because they are the body’s natural response mechanisms for pain processing.

A study available in the National Library of Medicine correlates the risk of mortality with emotional suppression. Denial of emotions, especially in young people, may cause chronic stress, cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer due to increased levels of cortisol (stress hormone) and decreased immune response.

Exposure to toxic content on social media can be reduced by unfollowing accounts that exude toxic positivity thereby modifying the content on our feeds. Also, sharing moments of both joy and disappointment on social media which, according to research forms a support network to process emotions, and realize that social media may not be an accurate representation of reality.

At an individual level, the negative effects of toxic positivity can be countered by journaling which, as per studies, leads to acceptance, resolution, and healthy regulation of emotions. Mindfulness has long been used to observe one’s thoughts and feelings in an unbiased manner and can help acknowledge emotions instead of suppressing them.

In an era of an influencer’s perfect life and random positive quotes, simply saying, “I feel upset” helps us face the fact that “real” life has its own ups and downs and is not as perfect as the virtual world.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.


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About the Contributor
Shelley Mishra, Opinions Columnist
Shelley Mishra is a first-year student at the University of Iowa, pursuing her degree in Neuroscience (Hons.).