Positive mind, positive life, positive vibes. Be you. Protect your aura, don’t let anyone bring you down. Everyone with an Instagram account is all too familiar with the plethora of positivity quotes that tend to appear like ingratiating, pastel-coloured reminders throughout your story-tapping. Often printed in a gentle, flowery script (if the Tampax advertisement voice was a font) and placed over the image of either a slightly unfocussed field or dreamy blue ocean, these quotes are not only intended to inspire, but to transcribe an entire lifestyle. Tranquillity, productiveness, mental wellness. On the surface, this can appear to be harmless – even helpful. However, as many mental health professionals are now pointing out, such posts are symptomatic of a larger issue which has come to landmark social media overall: that of toxic positivity.
Other examples of this trend include overly romantic travel reels, where could-be models twirl around the streets of Paris against a Billie Eilish soundtrack, flaunting the new levels of introspection that jet hopping has brought them; unfeasible feats of self-care, also often conducted by could-be models doused in a gratuitous volume of expensive spa oils; and even commenters, who in unwitting callousness encourage people who are going through a difficult time to just “be positive.” The emphasis on aestheticism encouraged by the nature of social media’s algorithms, and its subsequent negative effects, has been well documented. Now, the impact of people demonstrating a constant, exaggerated front of positive mental health is being placed under equal scrutiny.
Experts say that while toxic positivity is often perpetuated with good intent, its results can be quite detrimental. Constant exposure to this incessant peppiness can lead those suffering though difficult times to feel the need to hide or suppress their emotions, or to even feel considerable guilt over not being able to be happy. The barrage of sapid mantras that tend to be shared online can function as a kind of emotional plaster; a surface-level addressing of the issue, without truly acknowledging its depth or causes. This not only prevents the sufferer from growing from their negative experiences, but also hinders our own expressions of empathy.
So, what should we do about it?
Though it can certainly be uplifting or inspiring to see a well-thought quote posted here and there, if you find that a particular account is making you feel pressured or guilty over having negative emotions, it’s probably a good idea to unfollow them. Equally, it’s important to remember that it’s possible to maintain an overall positive outlook on life while also contending with sadness, fear and a lack of motivation. These emotions are both incredibly normal and vitally important for us to feel.
It can be easy to become sucked into the motivational wellness trap of social media, in which ominously serene individuals wake up at five a.m., journal, gym and also make a passive income on crypto. Just know that in the same way that people photoshop their bodies, they can also depict an unrealistic idea of how an emotionally healthy person behaves.