Toxic positivity is the idea that people should have a positive mindset no matter what they’re going through. It’s optimism taken to such an extreme that it dismisses and even rejects any negative feelings.
When you’re optimistic, you’re “consciously deciding to work for a better outcome,” says Moses Nalocca, a business and performance coach. On the other hand, toxic positivity is about believing and acting like “nothing has happened, it’s all good, this did not exist, the world is all pink and beautiful.”
It can happen to everyone—people do it to others and even themselves. In a Science of People survey, 67.8% of respondents said they’ve experienced toxic positivity from someone in the past week. More than 75% of respondents also admitted that they “ignore their own emotions in favor of being happy.”
Looking at the bright side of things can be a healthy way to approach life’s challenges. But while well-intentioned, a constant insistence on “being positive” can actually do more harm than good.
“Toxic positivity occurs when positive thinking or platitudes are used in a way that denies the reality of emotions perceived as negative,” said Dr. Heather Myers, an organizational psychologist at Paradox. When we’re quick to brush off situations or discussions that make us feel uncomfortable, it can actually “shut down conversation and encourage the suppression of any negative emotions.”
This mindset can make it harder to identify and address concerns as people feel forced to bottle up what’s bothering them and maintain a façade of positive vibes. Toxic positivity “gets in the way of one’s judgment and decision-making,” says Dr. John Philbin, founder of Spectacular at Work, a leadership coaching organization. “It causes people to take an unrealistically positive point of view instead of recognizing the need to take action when they are in negative situations.”