Ah, toxic positivity.
It’s that ‘get up and go’ impulse you can’t quite put your finger on.
That ‘je ne sais quois’ which sees you forcing yourself out of bed on a sunday morning when all you really want is to build a pillow fort and nap all day.
But why listen to your body when you’re giving it what it needs, right? An hour-long HIIT session will stand you in much better stead than a movie marathon and ice cream. Now get out of bed and stop complaining.
You’ll thank yourself for it in the long run.
Only you won’t. Or so recent research has started to indicate.
The ‘wellness’ trend that has swept across the world over the past decade has seen yoga class turnouts skyrocket; ‘clean eating’ reach new heights; and journaling, meditation, and mindfulness become the new ‘it’ things to do.
But it’s also seen us put an inordinate amount of pressure on ourselves to strive for zero-stress perfection in all that we do.
In a world where you can’t feel sad without feeling like you should be doing something about it (like, yesterday), it’s hard to remember that you’re a real person with real feelings who can’t always turn the negatives into positives.
As much as it might seem to be having a positive impact on your life, your obsession with ‘PMA’ might be making you feel worse.
So where does music come into all this? (We know you’ve been wondering.)
The answer is: at every level.
It’s a symptom of the problem and a catalyst that exacerbates it.
When you open up Spotify and see ‘Feel Good Tunes’, ‘Get Home Happy’, or ‘Mood Boosting Hits’ plastered all over your ‘recommended’ page, you’re seeing toxic positivity in action.
Don’t get us wrong, there’s nothing inherently ‘toxic’ about listening to some feel-good tunes when you’re actually feeling, you know, good.
But what if you’re not? Why are you blasting ‘Songs to Make You Feel Better’ on full volume when no amount of ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams is going to make any difference to your rubbish day.
Give yourself some credit, you can’t trick your own brain.
You won’t suddenly feel better because Spotify told you to. And there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that.
There lies the crux of the matter: toxic positivity is self-deception 101.
It’s using tools to convince yourself that you don’t feel the way you know you do, deep down.
In a nutshell, it’s self-destructive. Not only are you invalidating your emotions, you’re also encouraging yourself to be suspicious of your own feelings.
In the long-run, this attitude can lead you to putting off dealing with negative emotions, instead investing time, effort, and money into so-called ‘healthy’ coping mechanisms that serve as little more than ways of distracting yourself from problems you should be facing up to.
Doesn’t sound quite so ‘girl boss’ anymore, does it?
This might sound pretty drastic, but it’s actually quite simple in practice.
Say you just got broken up with. Or fired. Or your hair stylist absolutely annihilated your mop (and self-confidence) in one fail swoop.
You can let yourself be sad about it.
Looking on the bright side is great if you’ve been wallowing for weeks and find that life is passing you by. But wallowing isn’t the same as having normal, human emotions.
Arguments suck, breakups are never fun. Put on Bryson Tiller’s ‘Don’t’ and let yourself sit in the feelings it evokes for a while if you find yourself at a point in your life when everything isn’t all sunshine and roses.
Or angrily scream along to ‘Needed Me’ by Rihanna a few (hundred) times. Maybe even whack on some James Blunt if you’re the soppier type.
We’re not judging, and neither should you. That’s kind of the whole point.
But don’t take it from us – listen to the scientists.
According to a psychological study by Bogt, Canale, Lensi, et al., 72.7% of the young music lovers they surveyed said that listening to sad music didn’t really sadden them.
In fact, 20.9% of the girls and 9.9% of the boys stated that sad music actually lifted their mood in some way, with many expressing feelings of comfort as the main factor for their mood boost.
This is not to say it’s impossible for sad music to make you feel worse – the psychologists did note the prevalence of using music as a ‘maladaptive coping strategy’ among adolescents.
But these sorts of young people were in the minority.
By and large, sad music was found to have overwhelmingly non-negative impacts on general mood. Unlike toxic positivity, which has been found to cause a whole host of negative effects – from increasing feelings of low self-esteem to fostering a sense of isolation among people who feel pressure to hide their feelings behind a fake smile.
It’s not called ‘toxic’ for nothing.
Maybe you’ve never clocked that it’s a pretty self-destructive act to force yourself to cry into a kale smoothie rather than a tub of ice cream.
Or perhaps you didn’t notice that there’s some real dystopian ‘Black Mirror’ esque deception going on when you choose to blast ‘Dancing on the ceiling’ through your headphones whilst going through a heartbreak that means you probably won’t feel like dancing anywhere for a while (ceiling or otherwise).
As a new year approaches, so does the temptation to turn over a new leaf and pick up a whole host of shiny new habits to become the best version of you.
But if we want to start getting back in touch with our emotions, we need to stop drowning them out (both mentally and musically).
It’s time we put chucking away quick-fix ‘Feel Good’ playlists at the top of our 2022 priority lists.
Sorry ABBA Gold, you’re surplus to requirements now.