When Positive Psychology gets watered down it can sometimes come across as unachievable or even cruel
This week on the podcast I’m talking about toxic positivity and explaining a bit more about cruel optimism
I’ll be honest and say that one of the reasons I decided to leave Instagram (and all social media) wasn’t just the daily negative click-bait, but also the daily pom pom shakes from the positivity police.
Now I’m Australian, so I’m all for “she’ll be right” and “no worries”.
In Grade 3, at the ed of the day my teacher used to get us all to say “don’t worry, be happy!”. Even as an eight year old I wondered if this was a bit simplistic.
Positive Psychology is one of my favourite fields. I share this TED talk with Shawn Achor with anyone who will listen
But Positive Psychology and indeed positive thinking are not about blind pom pom shaking and “just” being anything.
When used incorrectly, you turn positive psychology into cruel optimism.
Sitting through pain and darkness through pain and darkness isn’t solved by simply being more positive.
You can’t pom pom your way out of trauma.
You can’t “just think positive” when you’re a mum working 3 jobs and still can’t pay your bills and afford to eat.
There is a great YouTube video from 2019 where California Democratic congresswoman Katie Porter schools JP Morgan’s CEO, Jamie Dimon on the real world.
She runs him through the numbers indicating that a single mother on the bank’s starting salary for a teller would be US$567 in the red at the end of each month. Porter asks Dixon how a woman in that situation could get by. He responds with vague statements and tries to say that maybe the woman in question may have his job one day.
There’s that unhelpful undertone of ‘Well, if she just put her head down and worked hard she could make it.’ Porter rightfully asks – how could this woman ever get to spend his 31 million dollars when she’s constantly $567 short.
Dixon says that he doesn’t know.
This is cruel optimism. Pollyanna BS that dismisses the community factors contributing to poverty.
It’s a subtle, but toxic shift that places the onus all back on the individual and the idea that if you just think positively, your life will magically change.
I’ve spoken before how I see this in social media. Women saying things like “if you’re just consistent”, “if you just create original content”, “if you just show up”, “if you just stick at it”.
People were saying this 5 years ago.
Has that much changed for most people?
Some people might now be ‘successful’ using this thinking. Most are probably not, and it’s not because they weren’t positive enough.
Cruel optimism is where you take a problem that has really big causes like addiction, attention, focus, obesity or maybe feeling like a crappy parent and then you sell what seems like a simple, straightforward solution.
You say “Great news, I’ve got the solution to your problem. You can’t focus? No worries just use this app five minutes a day and you’ll get your attention back” or “so you can’t get your baby to sleep? I’ve got this program/book/device that will work. But you know, hey if it doesn’t work then that’s on you and you’re probably broken.
It means that when people ‘fail’ at business, sleep settling, hypnobirthing, fussy eating strategies and so on, they will tend to blame themselves. They’ll say “I did the thing you’re meant to do, but I’ve still got this problem. There must be something wrong with me.”
When a flower doesn’t bloom we don’t blame the flower, shake pom poms and tell it to be more positive. We look at the environment that the flower has to contend with first. And, yes, I’m paraphrasing awkwardly from the original quote from Alexander Den Heije!
P.S. My second book, Social Media Detox for Mums is finally being released!
Pre sale opens January 3
Launch day is February 2
Pre orders for my new book, Social Media Detox for Mums is open!
Booktopia (21% off)
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