The problem with preaching positivity, self-love and happiness

Why I have a problem with people preaching positivity, self-love and happiness

It seems to be everyone’s goal to be achieve a perfectly happy life, one where there’s only room for positivity, rainbows and unicorns. The body positivity movement, one that should be there to empower us, has made me feel ashamed and disgusted by myself for the times I felt insecure about the way I look. And those promoting overall positivity and self-love have left me wondering what the fuck is wrong with me, for letting a bad day at work get to me when someone else has it worse. When has this weird sense of perfection become the norm? When did we become so obsessed with happiness?

Let me be clear on one thing, though. I fully support happiness, positivity and self-love. And I understand that in a way, all we want is to feel happy, and we’re all trying to achieve it in different ways. For some, happiness means being healthy, to others, it means having a successful job, or a marriage, or five kids, and for others it might not mean much at all. And I truly hope everyone can find that happiness, and self-love and acceptance.

The problem isn’t the positivity movement, but some of the people inspired by it.

Self-love isn’t the problem here, and neither are body-positivity, pride, or happiness. They’re great concepts, much needed in a society that pushes unrealistic standards upon us and hates us for who we are. I’m glad those movements are here, and I do believe they’re here to make us better, to make us happier. And I sure as hell hope they’re here to stay.

I don’t have a problem with those movements, or with people being happy with who they are, or with people being happy.

What I do have a problem with are some of the people inspired by those movements. The people who spread the narrative that “happiness is a choice“, that claim “we have to remain positive no matter what” because “all it takes for good things to happen is to think positive and surround yourself by positive people“. They’re the same people leaving, often well-intended, comments among the lines of “just don’t be sad“, “just stop overthinking” and “others have it worse, you’ll get through this“.

Why I have a problem with people preaching positivity, self-love and happiness

That’s a hurtful narrative and a pretty ignorant view on life.

Because happiness is great, and we should all strive to achieve it. But we should also remember to be realistic. It’s simply not possible to be happy or positive all the time. No one loves themselves, their situation, there life or their body 100% of the time. And even those who do, or those who come close to doing so, still have their insecurities or bad days. At some point in our life, all of us must go through grief, heart break, or even just a difficult day at work.

And implying we should all be aiming for constant positivity or constant happiness is a hurtful narrative. It makes it easy to suppress emotions, or makes us feel bad over feeling bad. It invalidates our feelings. And even worse, when you’re looking at the world expecting everyone to be in a never-ending state of happiness, you’re ignoring all of those with a mental illness.

You’re ignoring those whose depression is keeping happiness, amongst other feelings, away from them. You’re ignoring those whose anxiety is forcing irrational worries and negativity upon them, and those recovering from a trauma, and those not feeling anything at all.

Why I have a problem with people preaching positivity, self-love and happiness

And you’re basically invalidating the feelings of everyone who has ever felt bad about something.

Because when you’re telling the kid that’s crying because they failed a test that “they shouldn’t feel bad because failing one test isn’t everything”, you’re ignoring the underlying issues the kid might have, causing them to cry over just one failed test. And you’re telling them their feelings of shame, defeat or anger aren’t valid, because it wasn’t caused by something you find important.

And when you’re telling someone with crippling anxiety to just stop overthinking a certain situation, you’re ignoring the fact they’re literally suffering from a mental illness that’s causing these symptoms. As if you would tell someone with cancer to just stop being sick. And by doing that, you’re indirectly telling the person with anxiety that their mental illness is a choice, that what they’re experiencing is their own damn fault.

And when you’re telling the person needing to vent after a hard day at work they should be more positive because some people, like your great aunt who was just diagnosed with cancer, have it worse, you’re basically telling them that your feelings of pain are more important than theirs, as if two people can’t grief at the same time.

Why I have a problem with people preaching positivity, self-love and happiness

And I think that’s something some people fail to realise, especially those who never had to deal with a mental illness, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, abuse, etc. They don’t look outside of their own little bubble and view their happiness as the norm. But the truth is, not everyone has had the privilege of living a perfect life, and not everyone handles certain situations in the same way, not everyone has the ability to stay strong all the time.

Emotions, or the lack thereof, are a natural part of life, and there here for a reason. Let’s allow ourselves to feel them, to experience them. We are more than just our thoughts, our happiness or our negativity. Life is about more than just mood swings or negative thoughts, it’s also about what we do with those experiences.

Don’t stop striving for happiness, though.

By all means, let’s keep working on self-love and positivity. Let’s try our best to achieve happiness, and support and empower others. But let’s also leave some room for those other emotions and thoughts, those that society views as ‘weak’ or ‘imperfect’. Because while we all want to feel happy, sometimes all we want is to feel sadness without judgement.

Why I have a problem with people preaching positivity, self-love and happiness

Next time, when someone feels insecure about their cup size, don’t preach that they shouldn’t feel insecure. Don’t just say “you should love your body no matter what“, but listen to why they feel insecure. When someone starts a conversation about their anxiety, don’t tell the person which thoughts (not) to pay attention to, but just be there and listen. And when your friend cries over a failed tinder date, don’t tell them there are worse things in the world.

But be there, as a friend, a partner, a parent, a child, a colleague or a stranger. Be there and listen to them. Listen to why this issue, that seems so trivial to you, is so important to them.

A big part of self-acceptance is accepting your flaws, accepting the different parts of you experiencing different emotions. So let’s not invalidate others’ emotions. Telling me to think positive won’t benefit my anxiety, but being there for me as a respectful friend might.

Want to read more about positivity, mental health and self-love?

The pictures in this post are taken by me. If you like them, some of them are for sale via Society6 and RedBubble.

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  1. A very interesting perspective that I agree with even though I make the same mistake with people around me… Like you summed it up, I learned in my relationship with my boyfriend that he doesn’t want to hear: it will get better/ everything will be fine when he tells me about his problems at work. He just wants for me to be there and listen… So at the end of the day, we get back at this “listening” which is the issue with most of the problems today. Listening and being genuinely interested in people around you will have benefits for us and them equally!

    Thanks again for a great article!

  2. really thought provoking post. It’s hard in the world of social media to not compare – in the end I think you have to make the most of what you have, yes aspire to be like others, but social media is a filtered window on someone elses world

  3. A very interesting read and one that i certainly agree with to a pont, but do find those who do preach this happy mantra a bit smug and only say to the less fortunate!

  4. This is so interesting to read, I do believe in positivity and its benefits, but have found myself struggling recently and it has made me think a bit differently. Kaz

  5. That was an interesting read and you write really well. I’m fairly a positive person and but like all human I have my dark days and self-doubt. Thank you for writing this. xx

  6. Such a great post and so agree! Everyone is so saying ‘you should be happy’ as much as i agree yes, but then sometimes its hard and nearly impossible for some people it’s like saying ‘you should be healthy’ to a terminally ill person as a way fo living. Sometimes they can’t! I think we all know whats our ways and agree self-acceptance is so important!

  7. This was a very interesting read – I agree though, we do need to think of our other emotions and thoughts too