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Why I Don't Call Myself An Optimist

I don’t call myself an optimist but that doesn’t mean I’m a negative individual. I’ve always been a bit turned off by excessive positivity and am less attracted to people who exude hyper-positivity. I know that might strange and like it’s harmful for me to feel that way but overdosing on optimism can be just as detrimental to your well-being as being too negative. Extremes of any sort are never healthy. However, the problem with being too positive isn’t given as much attention because it’s believed to be a good thing and people aren’t familiar with where to draw the line.

I think we’ve all experienced feeling annoyed at someone who is always positive all the time, especially on social media. For those of you who watch Friends, you might recall the episode were Alec Baldwin played Phoebe’s overly-positive boyfriend. He drove the group crazy and was hard to be around. The reason why people can have an aversion to positivity isn’t because they’re negative but it’s because it feels fake and forced. People are often turned off by people who aren’t genuine and may trust them less; it’s hard to talk to a friend who is obsessed with positivity about something emotional or difficult. They either don’t want to hear about it because they think it’ll bring them down or they’ll invalidate your feelings by telling you to just not feel that negative feeling or force you to think about the bright side. I’ve always hated being told to not cry. Crying is natural and healthy. We feel better after we cry because of the release of endorphins: it’s like giving yourself a hug. I’m also an advocate for feeling what you need to feel. Holding in your feelings is like putting off going to the doctor for an illness. It won’t go away and will get worse if not addressed. I’ve found that people who are obsessed with positivity tend to advocate for pushing aside negative feelings and replacing them with positive ones. This sounds healthy but it isn’t. I prefer thinking positive thoughts and creating positive feelings while working through the negative ones. It’s all about having a healthy balance. Burying the negative emotions won’t make them go away. All you’ll do is numb the pain. Facing the negative emotions directly, even if it means feeling pretty bad for a while, allows you to actually eliminate those feelings when they occur and feel better in the long-term with less “baggage”, so to speak.

Another issue with positivity obsessions is that it tends to come in the form of “just remember that other people have it worse.” No one should have to feel like they’re not entitled to their own feelings just because other people may have other problems. There will always be someone with bigger problems than someone else but that doesn’t mean people can’t feel sad. You can be a millionaire at a party on a yacht and still be entitled to any negative emotion that may be coming up for you. It’s another way people who fixate on positivity can invalidate people’s feelings. I had a friend tell me I wasn’t allowed to feel upset about a breakup because children were starving in other countries and, in comparison, my problems are petty so I might as well be happy. This is a toxic thought process because it causes people to feel like they have to push aside their emotions and live with bottled up feelings and it causes the positive person to be less sympathetic to those around them, essentially making themselves a more negative person despite their intentions. People who are obsessed with positivity may also find themselves becoming less sympathetic to others through their annoyance at people’s problems. My favorite book is The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and I love the realistic and relatable portrayal of depression without the glamorization. Sometimes when I recommend the book to people, they stop reading it halfway and say it’s too depressing and they’d rather read something that’s more uplifting in tone. Depression is a real thing that many people go through and it’s important to be aware of it but people who are obsessed with positivity shun anything seemingly “negative” and allow themselves to be ignorant to the struggles people face or even find themselves being judgmental towards those struggles. They may even push away friends going through hard times because they think it’s going to poison their life or because they think it’s easier than it is to “lighten up” or they’re mad that the empty motivational words they toss at them aren’t working. Sometimes being a positive person can lead to someone acting in a negative and hurtful way.

No one’s life is perfect. The problem with today’s world is that everyone makes themselves out to have a perfect life on social media. If you’re only highlighting the positive all the time, how do you think that comes across to people who are having a harder time in life? Could your posts be making them feel jealous of something that isn’t even real or attainable? Could your posts be sending the message that there’s something wrong with people if they don’t feel positive all the time? I think people need to learn to be more responsible with their social media and start recognizing the impact they could be having on other people as we see people’s self-esteems plummet with the rise of social media influence. I advocate for being real and honest on social media. Not everyone will take it as far as I or others do but overall, it’d be nice to see a movement where people are just their real, authentic selves on social media instead of only posting the highlights and vague motivational quotes. Let’s embrace life for everything it is and benefit from it by becoming emotionally healthier people who can make genuine connections with one another. I feel like I can’t be myself around people who are all about positivity all the time because I fear they’ll reject the worst parts of me.

I tend to be a realistic person who looks at the facts and reads peer-reviewed studies before I believe anything. I’m a natural skeptic and this attitude definitely plays a role in my distaste for extreme optimism. I aim for a balanced life and acceptance of all of my emotions. It’s not healthy to always be negative and we should always aim to remind ourselves of things we are grateful for and to smile. It’s not healthy to be positive all the time and we need to remind ourselves that it’s okay to cry and be angry. I don’t want to be scared of anything I’m feeling because with my mental illnesses, different emotions come up all of the time and I need to be able to cope with them. I want to be an empathetic listener and have my feelings validated when I’m the one doing the talking. When you have a mental illness, it’s important to avoid any extremes. One of my former therapists taught me that many people recovering from mental illness find themselves gravitating toward extreme lifestyles (extreme religion, extreme positivity, extreme diets, extreme exercise routines, etc.) to replace their former habits. Sometimes these new routines seem to be healthy and positive on the surface but in reality, anything that requires you to bounce from one extreme to another is not recovery.

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