Positivity is not a magical solution to every problem.
There’s nothing pop psychology pushes harder than positivity, as a general cure for what ails you. Feeling overwhelmed? Look on the bright side! Frustrated with your car troubles? Try a little perspective! Struggling in a relationship? Focus on gratitude! At the very least, we’re promised, it can’t hurt.
It’s convincing because fostering a positive attitude really can make a difference. Gratitude and perspective are important, too — so important that you can’t live a good life without them. Still, positivity is not a magical solution to every problem, and it’s certainly not helpful in every given situation. Here are five times that trying to keep a smile on your face might actually just make everything worse.
When you, me, and everyone else knows you’re faking it
It’s not hard to convincingly fake that smile in the face of minor annoyances, but when things are really bad, and your grin is clearly more like a grimace, all you’ve accomplished is sending the clear message that you’re not interested in anybody asking “Hey, are you okay?” much less offering to help. People will see how hard you’re working to hide your suffering, and most of them will try to respect that, and give you the distance they think you need.
When it’s really just about pride
Sometimes all the positivity in the world is really just a way of trying to look perfect — or to keep up with everybody else who seems so perfect. Everybody’s perfectly filtered Instagram pictures don’t help with this, but we end up trying to keep up with people whose social media makes their lives look so joyful and #blessed.
When it’s really just about guilt
It’s too easy to believe that if only we were smarter, holier, or had better willpower, we wouldn’t be hurting. Not only is that not true, but the attitude makes us feel like suffering is some kind of moral failing, or at the very least, something to be embarrassed about. It’s not. Looking on the bright side is fine, but it’s not a moral imperative.
When it’s stopping you from getting the help you need (that includes from God, in prayer)
We can convince ourselves of pretty much anything, just by insisting that it’s true long enough. So saying “Things are fine. After all, they could be so much worse, and I should be grateful …” might just be enough to convince you not to go looking for what you really need to fix the problem.
When you’re insisting that somebody else has to have a positive attitude
You don’t have the right to tell another person to focus on the positive, since you can’t truly know, as an outsider, what they’re going through. Even when you’re sure it would help, what you’re really doing by suggesting that your sick or sad friend put on a smile is showing that you’d rather offer a simplistic solution than actually hear them when they say that they’re hurting.