By William Louderback
Near everyone has undoubtedly been thrust into the debate of what some call toxic positivity, some call the ‘Pain Olympics,’ and some call ‘just keeping things in perspective.’ All of us have been lectured about why we can’t be depressed, because some other kid was hurt worse by the world. We can’t gripe about the little things, because somebody else has a far worse hand. And the argument isn’t entirely illogical, it just tends to miss the mark.
While there is always a complete validity when it comes to keeping things in perspective, I have always found a swift reminder to those who voice complaints regarding their own situation to be… counter-constructive. To me, such responses compound the all too familiar feeling of human negativity by taking the thing I feel bad about and compounding it with guilt. Now is a good time to mention that everyone is different, and nothing is more vast and difficult to grasp than mental health. Therefore, what I consider ‘toxic positivity’ or, a perhaps new term that I’m too lazy—(no, invested in writing!)—to google, ‘toxic gratitude,’ may be immensely helpful to calming another. Perhaps my hesitance has to do with good ol’ self esteem, which, not to get too personal here- yeah, hasn’t always been great.
What I truly believe in is finding a balance. Because here’s the thing: as much as I appreciate the feeling of venting, of going on about all the little things until I feel better, I also don’t have the best track record for tolerating constant complaints from those around me, and I’m by no means alone.
You can, I believe, quite easily discover a healthy balance for the negativity in your life. I personally would not encourage you to ignore it or dismiss it. Remember: you are just as prone to shocker—actually dealing with emotions as anyone else. No, really. Anyone. However, that whole perspective aspect is key. At basics, the aforementioned attitudes are correct at their core. Somebody, somewhere, has it worse than you. And that matters… sort of. But it matters as a point of perspective and not dismissal. That other unknown hypothetical person with a worse life should not serve to invalidate your thoughts of anger, sadness, annoyance, or whatever bitterness you may feel, but your general situation should keep perspective in the back of your mind. This is so you don’t beat yourself down too much, or feel too hopeless. Focus, for a moment, on the negative, and then consider the positive. Qualify the negative in comparison to the positive. Then, consider whether or not your situation is changeable. This is perhaps the most important step. If it is, then by all means, do whatever it is you can do in your power to change it. If it isn’t, well… no use worrying.
I am fully aware that this advice is by no means ‘one size fits all’ or even remotely professional. The only relevant thing I am a professional on here is my own mind, which can’t be all that unusual. I’m not writing this to give the missing key to help everyone’s life. I’m not sending you to a website or Amazon book listing to scam you. This isn’t clickbait because I have no bait to draw the click. Because no one really does in this topic. I’m just writing this for all the people who were told about someone else who was starving or trapped in war and only felt worse about everything. I’m writing this for the ones in crippling downward spirals of self-doubt, wondering if their problems are valid. You’re not alone. I’m like that too, and like I said, we can’t possibly be alone. My best small advice is to embrace gratitude in your life. Not the pure and positive form where you’re told to drop all negative thoughts and be happy for what you have, but where those very happy thoughts are happy because of the acknowledgement of all the negative ones. Accepting those bitter, taboo emotions and giving them time and just enough non-obsessive attention is what makes you truly realize the parts of your life that you genuinely value the most. No one needs to tell you why you should feel happy, because you know once you step back and consider. So go ahead- go forth and feel those negative thoughts, that anger, that sadness, jealousy, heartbreak- and think about them. Consider them. Not to shut them down, lock them away, but, rather, to make the choice to live in spite of them or put them to rest. Because, at least from my personal lived experience, these two choices lead to the most growth. Just keep it in perspective, in the most positive, non-self-destructive way you can muster.