The Cult of Positivity

For the last few years, there has been this movement in the Wellness Community that focuses almost entirely on remaining positive at all costs. Whatever is happening to you or with you, the intent is to find something positive about the situation. What can you learn from this experience? How can you grow? How can you turn that frown upside down?

If you get back what you put out into the Universe, then don’t be throwing shade.

On the one hand, it’s great that people are saying “you know what? if we all chose to focus on better things, things would be better.” Because to a certain extent it is true. You can choose to be happy. You can choose to stop focusing on all the things that bring you down (many of which are beyond your control and not intentionally doing anything to you anyway) and focus on all the good things surrounding you. You can do that. You have that option.

The thing is, you can’t be happy all of the time. You can’t be positive all of the time. Even Buddha knew that. He suffered. He suffered a lot, and he freely admitted it. Life is suffering, he said. He found peace, but only because he slogged through the shit in order to get there.

Here’s the thing. People have emotions, and they aren’t all shiny and bright. It is hard to understand just how incredible “joy” can be if you’ve never experienced the depth of “sorrow.”

Sometimes the reason for the sadness and pain is genetic or chemical. Telling someone who struggles with these neurological differences to “stay positive” or “choose happiness” or “shake it off” may be asking them to do something they are literally incapable of doing.

Sometimes, the worst of the worst happens. Rape. A horrific car accident. Cancer. Death. Violence. You know, the things we prefer not to think of lest we invite them in. The last thing anyone in the midst of these experiences should be told is to “look on the bright side,” “there’s a reason for everything,” or even “you chose this path before you came into this world to learn and grown from this experience.”

And yet, people do say these things. Because they think they are helping. They believe they are bringing comfort to those who are suffering.

Yeah, so that bad thing you’re going through? You did it to yourself, so don’t complain. Suck it up, you low-vibrational buttercup.

This would be called gaslighting. There are variations on the definition, but basically gaslighting is telling someone that they are experiencing reality wrong.  What they think is happening isn’t really happening; what they think they are feeling isn’t what they should be feeling.

In denying the less “sparkly” emotions and feelings, one is told they aren’t valid, they aren’t human for experiencing them. They are denied the full experience of living in their body at this moment in time. They are told they are inherently wrong, broken, bad.

Let me say this now: each emotion, each feeling that is inside you is valid. It is correct. It is necessary.

Happiness is (sometimes) a choice. Suffering is (sometimes) a choice. Honor and respect the emotions and journey of the individual and know that they are doing the best they can with what they’ve been given.

If you’re angry, that’s okay. If you’re sad, frustrated, or done with it all, then there you are. You get to have those feelings. You get to have a shitty day, and you don’t have to apologize for it.

However, be wary of the other extreme. Yes, positivity at all costs isn’t healthy, but neither is negativity 100% of the time. If you find that you can never see the light for all of the dark, there may be larger issues at play and help may be needed. While positivity can hide pain in deniability, negativity denies the joy in life because, ironically, it causes too much pain.

There is room for the light and dark in each person, in each life. The goal is balance. You are not wrong for experiencing the “darker” emotions, and you are not wrong for experiencing the “lighter” ones, either.

The goal is balance. Try to be with them all.


  1. 10 Things I Wish I’d Known About Gaslighting
  2. 11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting
  3. Seven Positive Thinking Phrases That Can Actually Cross the Line into Gaslighting
  4. Can Positive Thinking Be Negative?