Too Much Positivity?

Is there such a thing as too much positivity? Quick answer: no, unless...


As you know from our name, Alive 'n Well, we believe in helping create a world that works for everybody; a society that is civil, even if there are important heated discussions; a country that upholds the rights of everyone regardless of how "different" they might be from us.


In other words, we embrace a positive way of regarding whatever is happening now.

We also are aware that positivity might seem scant for those affected by the pandemic, climate change or suffering of any kind. We know that--as a matter of science--the refusal to see life's difficulties and denying uncomfortable experiences can sicken someone emotionally or worse.


"Toxic positivity" is ultimately a denial of reality. Rather than saying "stay positive" to someone in a real crisis, listening to them without judgment or unsolicited advice conveys one's own positivity AS sympathy... wordlessly.


As the gratitude researcher Robert Emmons of UC Davis writes, “To deny that life has its share of disappointments, frustrations, losses, hurts, setbacks, and sadness would be unrealistic and untenable. Life is suffering. No amount of positive thinking exercises will change this truth.”


So, what's helpful? Psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl coined the phrase "tragic optimism." This way of living inspires a search for meaning amid the inevitable tragedies of human existence. Sometimes nothing short of miraculous are the ways people have been re-born after going through tragedy, grief and loss: they have greater appreciation of life and intense love of others, increased compassion, sense of purpose and even spiritual renewal. Frankl wrote, "No matter what happens, we always possess the ability to decide what to make of our condition."


Optimizing a tragedy changes how you process the event and it upgrades your worldview. Kristi Nelson, the executive director of A Network for Grateful Living, faced her own mortality at the age of 33, when she received a cancer diagnosis and had to undergo multiple surgeries, chemo and radiation. Nevertheless, she writes that she was constantly on the lookout for opportunities to cultivate gratefulness:

I was in the hospital, separated from all my friends and family and tethered to all kinds of IVs and dealing with pain. And yet, I had nurses and technicians and doctors and cleaners who came into my room every single day. I remember thin