What is ‘toxic positivity’? The dark side of the focus on happiness

What is ‘toxic positivity’?  The dark side of the focus on happiness

Is there too much emphasis on happiness in today’s society? Image: Shutterstock

Tthere is no denying that it is always desirable to see the glass as half full rather than half empty. But if you’re the type of person who never complains, even when you’re facing one of life’s tough challenges, you could get caught up in a dangerous trend that can be damaging to your mental health: “toxic positivity.”


“Let’s stay positive”! It’s a mantra we hear more than ever in this era dominated by depressing news stories and an era that emphasizes and prioritizes personal development and positive thinking. While a positive outlook can indeed be good for mental health, when viewed essentially as an injunction to be happy when one’s emotional state is far from it, this positive focus can end up being counterproductive and even in the realm of ” toxic positivity”. .”

According to psychologists who have studied the question, toxic positivity refers to the phenomenon of suppressing all negative emotions, to the point where we pretend to be happy and always assure those around us that everything is fine. But in the long run, the fact of suppressing our negative emotions and not facing our psychological dissatisfaction (be it fear, anxiety or loneliness) can lead to the onset of symptoms of depression.

“[t]The ability to live with our emotions is essential. Suppressing or avoiding them doesn’t solve anything. In fact, trying to avoid negative emotions at all costs does not have the desired effect – on the contrary, the emotions tend to return more often and more intensely.” Andrée-Ann Labranche of the Université du Québec (Montréal) explained in The Conversation , PhD candidate in psychology at the Université du Québec (Montréal).

But at a time when positive thinking is very popular and openly expressing sadness or negative feelings (especially since the pandemic) is less and less tolerated in society, it is not always easy to express and externalize what you are feeling.

According to a recent survey* conducted by market research start-up Appinio, based in Hamburg, Germany, 60% of French people believe that the emphasis on happiness is becoming more prevalent in society.

According to the survey, 28% of French people tend not to answer honestly when asked how they are doing, probably for fear of being misunderstood. This is especially the case during holidays (62%) or big “happy” events such as a wedding (61%), but also with their family (59%) or at work (57%).

Also read: Playtime has little effect on short-term mental health: study

Meanwhile when it comes to social networks: 72% of respondents admit that they feel pressured to show a positive attitude when going on such platforms, especially Facebook (41%) and Instagram (22%).

*Survey conducted by Appinio from July 6-9, 2022 among 1,000 respondents

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