The ”good vibes only” neon sign flashed, while I sipped my weak tea alone in a café after a pretty traumatic 24 hours. I couldn’t help but inwardly wince at those snapping it for their Instagram story, before reminding myself that I had probably done the same at one time or another.
In the pensive and overthinking mood that I found myself, I thought about the meaning of the sentence – beyond its instaquote and t-shirt slogan suitability it actually represented something more concerning – an inability to deal with anything less than positive.
At that moment, while I had plenty to feel positive about, a roof over my head, money to buy the tea in my hand, no immediate danger on the streets outside – they weren’t the things I wanted to be reminded of. When something terrible happens, the solution is rarely hearing about something much worse that happened to someone else or that “it could be worse”.
I’m a believer in affirmations, reminders to yourself of how far you have come, being kind to oneself, what we put out into the world we get back and so on. I realise that a negative thought can quickly spiral into a negative feeling, nonetheless I recognise the validity and purpose of a negative thought in moderation.
Increasingly, there is a worrying online trend towards an entire censorship of negativity and an all-out avoidance of anything less than ‘goals’.
Vulnerability, self recorded videos /pictures of tearful meltdowns were once the darling of social media but the new kid on the block is toxic positivity – the act of rejecting or denying stress, negativity, or other negative experiences that exist.
A positive can-do attitude is often touted as a one-way street to fitness, success and wealth – the holy trifecta. Our quick fix culture reinforces the message that to be positive is to succeed, get over it, hustle and WIN!
I scrolled through my social media apps that day in the cafe, hoping for distraction, but the majority of what I saw was some version of the above, swiftly followed by a quick push of the deactivate button for a few weeks.
What I actually needed was to simply sit in it – it being the momentary sadness or negativity. Contrary to what social media would have you believe, that doesn’t make you weak, mentally ill or inferior in some way. We all know people who are or appear to be perpetually positive, we also know that these people are often the ones who may struggle the most inwardly and work really hard on themselves.
How can we better support ourselves and other people without resorting to false positivity? What I noticed is that people often seem to rush to a solution when trying to offer comfort. That, in and of itself is not a bad thing, but, sometimes what is required first is simply an empathetic ear and an acknowledgement of their feelings and a moment of sharing that.
Being a well functioning human means demonstrating self-awareness, that means moderating your words, tweaking your tone and behavior – reading the room. The same should apply to social media, if that means unfollowing the relentless positivity mindset accounts – do so.
Both positivity and negativity play important roles in our life, we can’t know one without the other.
So, while it’s certainly less catchy and infinitely more corny, my fictional café’s neon sign reads “All vibes welcome”.