Daily Bread for 11.13.21: Toxic Positivity Is Worse than Annoying as Public Policy

Good morning.

Saturday in Whitewater will be cloudy with a high of 39.  Sunrise is 6:45 AM and sunset 4:32 PM for 9h 47m 07s of daytime.  The moon is a waxing gibbous with 70.8% of its visible disk illuminated.

 On this day in 1940, Walt Disney’s animated musical film Fantasia is first released, on the first night of a roadshow at New York’s Broadway Theatre.

Elizabeth Bernstein, writing in the Wall Street Journal, rightly observes (focusing on a personal context) that Toxic Positivity Is Very Real, and Very Annoying:

Yes, cultivating a positive mindset is a powerful coping mechanism, especially in tough times. But positivity needs to be rooted in reality for it to be healthy and helpful.

“ Toxic positivity is positivity given in the wrong way, in the wrong dose, at the wrong time,” says David Kessler, a grief expert and the author of six books about grief, including his latest, “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.”


“It’s a form of gaslighting,” says Susan David, a psychologist and consultant at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts and the author of “Emotional Agility.” “You basically are saying to someone that my comfort in this situation is more important than your reality.”


How can we avoid forced positivity, to better help ourselves or someone else who is down?

Start by recognizing that it is different from hope or optimism. Those emotions are rooted in reality, Dr. David says, while toxic positivity is a denial of it.

Bernstein is writing of toxic positivity as a response to illness, but it’s worse than annoying as a public policy position: like boosterism (accentuating the positive to spur business development), toxic positivity as a public policy position overlooks human need (e.g., injury, poverty) for the sake of a happy narrative (that benefits officials’ self-promoting claims).

See Boosterism’s Cousin, Toxic Positivity and Tragic Optimism as an Alternative to Toxic Positivity (“Tragic optimism involves the search for meaning amid the inevitable tragedies of human existence, something far more practical and realistic….people can grow in many ways from difficult times—including having a greater appreciation of one’s life and relationships, as well as increased compassion, altruism, purpose, utilization of personal strengths, spiritual development, and creativity. Importantly, it’s not the traumatic event itself that leads to growth…but rather how the event is processed, the changes in worldview that result from the event, and the active search for meaning that people undertake during and after it.”)

In a place with genuine needs, toxic positivity is a lie. The danger: proponents of toxic positivity will first overlook these needs, but later conceal these needs.

 Something healthfully positive — Endangered Amur Leopard Cub Makes Debut at Zoo:

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2 years ago

[…] In Whitewater, the local public school district can spill onto social media as many happy posts as it wants, and yet not a single student will be healthier or safer.  Vaccination clinics in our schools would protect. Facebook, by contrast, hasn’t yet protected anyone from hangnail, let alone a virus. See Boosterism’s Cousin, Toxic Positivity and Toxic Positivity Is Worse than Annoying as Public Policy. […]