There is nothing wrong with being positive or working of thinking positive. Take a look at Let’s look at ‘thinking positive’ which essentially is this Cognitive Behavioural therapy for mental illness and chronic pain is a good thing. We can be caught in a net of negative thinking and need to adjust ourselves to more realistic thinking. And there is some research to back that. And that is definitely not what I am talking about. That is a good thing. I did CBT for depression and pain and it was quite beneficial for my mental wellbeing.

And this post isn’t about being an optimistic person. If you are… do your thing, man. Keep on keeping on.

And it isn’t about having hope or being happy or being in general positive about your life … this is not what this post is about. I mean, I maintain my mood via a lot of ways to manage my depression and pain. Gratitude journal and many other things. I work through overtly negative catastrophizing thoughts (CBT). And hope, well, a little of that goes a long way. This is about the Movement of Positivity. The Toxic Movement really. The Cult of Positivity. And that is different. Very different.

The cult of positivity

The cult of positivity is more of a cultural plague these days

I call it the cult of positivity because it is basically toxic positivity that has influenced 800 self-help books into convincing people they call will themselves into happily ever after. Like Happy is a state of mind you can exist in all the time. Like it is an end goal. I have written about this before as I will link to… this is not right, it isn’t.

A prime example is the book You Are Badass which I couldn’t even finish reading it is so full of crap the cover should be brown (I call it mindless brain fluff and clearly a lot of people disagree since it sells so well. But this sort of thing does sell well. All the time. Typical self-help positivity books… not my deal. Just saying.):

But it is far from the only example. It is almost a pervasive belief system that has been growing for some time. And in a way, it promotes stigma in some cases for people with chronic illnesses like mental illness. And in a way, it does a disservice to everyone else who reads it or believes it because they are fooling themselves into thinking they are not fully developed emotional beings… that have to deal with and have ‘negative’ emotions. Not deny them. Not run from them. Not shove them down and repress them. Not force yourself to be positive and pretend they don’t exist. Actually feel them and deal with them like the fully developed emotional being you are.

And in this cultural plague, there is no room for mental illness. Because you should poof it out with just ‘thinking positive thoughts’. That literally we have control over and choose our state of mind.

Me: I am so depressed

Them: Oh, have you tried thinking like happy thoughts? Like throwing happy thoughts like out into the universe so like happy things like happen to you? Like forcing happy thoughts into your head all the time so like the depression just stops?

Me: Oh! Damn! That totally cured my depression! Gee. I wish I had thought of that before! *intense sarcasm’

They ignore the neurological reasons for mental illness. Ignore the habitual thought patterns. Even the situations and health issues that may underlay the mental illness. Nope. None of that matters if you have the right Mindset. Just Will yourself into the right Headspace and cure yourself. Bam. Cured. And totally your fault if you’re not.

Problem one:

We cannot live up to the cult of positivity. If we try doing this will ourselves into a positive mindset to cure ourselves we fail. And we blame ourselves. And we feel guilty and ashamed and weak. it other words, it backfires and we feel even worse for not being able to live up to an impossible standard.

The idea that you can be happy if you simply choose to be has been integrated into America’s military, classrooms and workplaces to improve coping skills, performance and mental health. Newsweek

Check out my view on Happiness: Chronic illness: Mood, Happiness and Life satisfaction  Where I talk about how Happiness is not what we should be talking about but rather life satisfaction. And those are entirely different concepts.

Shame is bad, and that is what the Cult of Positivity does. But acknowledging our emotions, all of them, is very healthy and that is what we should be doing with chronic illness and for our wellbeing.

But as the movement’s popularity grew, it started being used to shame people with depression, anxiety or even occasional negative feelings. The August and October issues of Motivation and Emotion, the official journal of the Society for the Study of Motivation, have studies that prove the shaming is real. The study from the August issue, conducted by Karin Coifman and colleagues, concluded that when people acknowledge and address negative emotions toward their relationships or chronic illnesses, it helps them adjust their behavior and have more appropriate responses. Those negative emotions, in turn, benefit their overall psychological health. The October study, conducted by Elizabeth Kneeland and colleagues, concluded that people who think emotions are easily influenced and changeable are more likely to blame themselves for the negative emotions they feel than people who think emotions are fixed and out of their control. Newsweek

I hate to say it, but we are emotional animals that have a full range of emotions. In no way, should we feel guilty for having the less appealing emotions… they are just a real and just as fundamental and just as psychologically important as every other emotion.

Research bears that out. A 2012 study undertaken at the University of Queensland and published in the journal Emotion found that when people think others expect them to not feel negative emotions, they end up feeling more negative emotions. A 2009 study published in Psychological Science found that forcing people to use positive statements such as “I’m a lovable person” can make some feel more insecure. Further, New York University psychology professor Gabriele Oettingen and her colleagues have found that visualizing a successful outcome, under certain conditions, can make people less likely to achieve it.

Researchers have also found that people in a negative mood produce better quality and more persuasive arguments than people in a positive mood, and that negative moods can improve memory. Newsweek

We can use positivity to as a form of denial… of things going very, very wrong as a way of avoiding dealing with them. In fact, with chronic illness, we have to deal with a lot of problems all the time (financial instability, work problems, insurance companies, disability… the list goes on… we can not bury our heads in the sand and avoid it)

Psychiatrist Dr. Mark Banschick argues that positive thinking can become a way of avoiding necessary action. People might say everything is fine even when it isn’t and avoid fixing the problems in their lives. Beth Azar wrote in an article published by the American Psychological Association that there is a widespread and overblown confidence in the power of the positive, including the misperception that people can stave off illness with optimism. Newsweek


For depression, in my case, this cult of positivity always felt False to my brain. Fake. Not realistic. In the face of my depression and chronic pain… my brain denied that brain fluffy thoughts as idiotic fantasy world stuff. Yeah, I felt weak I couldn’t be like that… just Happy for no reason. But I had no concept of what happiness was. That it is an emotion… not a state of Existence. It is just an emotion. It comes. It goes. And other emotions float around in there. There is also contentment. And joy. And at ease. And boredom. And ‘meh’. And that feeling when you strive towards a goal you want to achieve and feel that progress. And that feeling when you feel proud of your work. And that feeling and that other feeling and then that other feeling. Happiness is many shades of emotions. But other emotions are equally valid and multi-faceted. Some blah. Some dark. Some awesome.

But I couldn’t accept Fake Positivity. Just Be Happy. Just Think Happy Thoughts. Just put your happy thoughts into the universe and it will Happen. Totally. Blag blah blah bleh. Bullcrap. And if you fail? Your fault. Not trying hard enough. Bullcrap.

What I could do is see a psychologist and do Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. And begin to look at my more irrational belief systems like catastrophizing and start to level them out to more realistic views and beliefs about pain and illness. Realistic, I can do. But real is full of messy emotions. I just know what to do with them and I think in many ways they serve a purpose for my wellbeing to have them all. And dealing with depression is a difficult thing to do. I do not need any Forced Positive Thinking. I need real ways to cope with real emotions and real thoughts.

We have got to stop believing this crap. I mean it. It is killing this culture. You know what? Know thyself. And that means dark and light and in-between. Because you are human. And we have a full range of emotions to use. Might as well embrace the mess the of emotional meat sacks we are. Because that isn’t going to change.

And if you want a book that is better than the usual self-help Cult of Positivity crap out there may I recommend: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

See more:

Not miserable? You must not have pain

Depression and thinking positive

Vlog: Chronic pain brain and emotional consequences
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8 thoughts on “The cult of positivity

  1. Holy fuck I love this blog post and you hit the nail on the head as to how I have been feeling for some time. It is not only the positive thinking crap that gets to me it is also the rainbows, butterflies and unicorn posts by the chronic pain community. I am really sure that pain isn’t all that crap. This sort of post is the same as the positive thinking crap. Thank you

    Guy Albert Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

    1. It has to be said. That one book I mention came with my tablet… and Worst Book Ever. I mean, Holy Mindless brain fluff. And that is the sort of thing sucked up by society these days like it is gold. Uhg. Anyway, it had to be said.


  2. Great. The subtle art is a wonderful book indeed. Loved how Manson says ““The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anything pushed unfairly and aggressively ends up feeling more negative rather than motivational. It’s also sad how people think that thinking happy things is all it takes. What people forget is that thoughts need to change to action – what good is my happy thinking if I’m going to eat what doesn’t work for me, or have toxic people in my life – if your thought isn’t followed with realistic practical action then it’s all a fad – a farce. Thank you for writing about this topic Nikki.

    Liked by 1 person

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