Toxic Positivity (noun)- The excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.
After many years of making excuses, covering up the root causes of many issues, and masking my real emotions with a fake confidence, I realized something: I was tired. Tired of constantly motivating myself to stay positive, tired of always reminding myself to smile, tired of holding space for “good vibes only,” and tired of wearing a cheerful mask when negative situations occurred in my life. Sure, being optimistic and hopeful can certainly benefit us when we encounter life’s challenges, but approaching these issues with a toxic positivity and only “looking on the bright side” can eliminate the option to face these issues with an authentic and productive approach. I began to put down the mask and opened up to dealing with my very real problems and emotions.
According to verywellmind.com: “Having a positive outlook on life is good for your mental well-being. The problem is that life isn’t always positive. We all have painful emotions and experiences. Those emotions, while often unpleasant, need to be felt and dealt with openly and honestly to achieve acceptance and greater psychological health.” Our society has trained us that in times of conflict we need to approach these times with a smile because crying won’t help, and to just get over it (telling ourselves other people have it a lot worse) and that everything will be OK. But in reality, this approach can be harmful in the long run.
“Rather than being able to share genuine human emotions and gain unconditional support, people faced with toxic positivity find their feelings dismissed, ignored, or outright invalidated,” according to verywellmind.com. It adds, “Toxic positivity can lead to feelings of shame, guilt for not staying positive when you feel like you should, avoids authentic human connections, and prevents growth and deeper insights.”
We have already established how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place. But the battle of the Paradise Paradox continues, as many feel the effects of struggling alone away from friends and family, the negative stigma around mental-health issues like depression and anxiety, getting stuck in a party-culture atmosphere, and facing these challenges with a toxic positive approach. It can often feel easier to fake a grin and remain in the light, covering issues with drugs and alcohol, and avoiding the darkness and reality of your true emotions. But what if we embraced these struggles and emotions head-on with honesty and communication, sharing our authentic feelings and trials for a greater long-term improvement?
One way we can do this is to initiate and focus on positive human connections. According to Dr. Miriam Kirmayer (psychologist and friendship expert), “Friendships and human connections are the strongest predictors of how happy and healthy we are, more than diet, exercise and genetics.” Many people move to Summit County alone, and struggle being away from their inner circle of friends and family. Finding positive friendships and connections can be hard, despite living in a community of countless others with similar interests. It is not uncommon to look for these connections in the bars, feeling lonely at home and wanting to get out and be social.
Evaluating these new (or old) friendships for potential problems is important. Kirmayer reminds us that any friendships or relationships negatively impacting your mental health, physical safety, and overall wellness can leave you unfulfilled, lonely, and disconnected. She also shares that friendships should be contributed to equally by all involved, and to think about the activities you participate in with these individuals. While you can’t depend on one person for all your friendship needs, do your bar friends truly know the real you? Are you the only person reaching out and making plans? Did your happy hour date ask you any questions about your current life? She also shares that it’s important to look inward. “You can only control yourself and assess the dynamics of your own life – what makes you happy, and what makes you feel good.”
By focusing on these positive human connections we can also encourage the ability to talk openly and freely about our true emotions and struggles, destigmatizing the negatives around mental-health struggles. For example, instead of encouraging our friends to “cheer up or stay positive” after a breakup or job loss, we said, “It’s important to let it out, you are not alone, things are tough right now, or do you want to talk about it?”
In just eight short blocks and less than a mile and a half, the town of Breckenridge offers about thirty bars and restaurants with countless options for cocktails and social opportunities at all hours of the day and night. Not only do many of the seasonal and full-time workforce depend on these establishments for their employment, but they also find consistency in filling social desires, a place to unwind after a long shift, and an opportunity to numb real-life issues as needed. While living in a bustling tourist community can feel enjoyable and festive at times, it can also feel lonely and unauthentic. What happens when you invite your bar friends out to ski or hike, or any activity outside of that space?
If you find yourself stuck in the toxic party culture and are thinking about leaving, here is a great potential first step. Start small with alcohol/drug-free days each week or try to save it for the weekends and special occasions. Think about how you feel during sobriety and the following day. Turn down your shift drink and attend a social event sober. Introduce an alcohol-free drink or mocktail to your routine to fulfill the desire of holding a drink when you are out. We as a culture also need to be better at disassembling the correlation between alcohol and fun. Yes, it’s OK to have some drinks and not feel guilty about it, but it’s also possible to enjoy yourself at a party, wedding, book club, happy hour, or social event alcohol free. Offer a mocktail menu at your restaurant or host dry events at your establishment.
In my own ongoing journey with alcohol and party culture in the service industry I remember an odd feeling and look from others when I began to turn down my shift drink after clocking out. I also remember the “friends” that would peer pressure me to stay out, do another shot, or make me feel bad about heading home. Unsurprisingly, these friends were unavailable the next day to snowboard or hang without these additional party favors. I also began to take note about how good I felt the day after sobriety, more rested and motivated, ready to take on the day. Making small goals and saving my allotted drinks for specific days and events also helped me make small changes in my own consumption. I also allow myself some grace and compassion if I’m not perfect at this.
If you find yourself or someone close to you in a position to ask for help or resources and are unsure where to start, please check out:
Starting small and shifting the trajectory of your life can be scary. It can also be overwhelming to approach certain issues and challenges with honesty – brushing them off instead of facing them head-on. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and try to embrace the struggle. Instead of hiding your true feelings with fake smiles and disguises, try to open up about your reality, and also offer this to others in the form of support and a listening ear. Reevaluate the human connections in your life, support others in their own journey (for example, don’t shame or push your friends when they choose not to drink next time you see them), get outside each day to experience the true beauty of Summit County, and ask for help when needed. Here are some additional resources for therapy, support groups, and free events through Building Hope.
Artist Pablo Picasso wrote: “Some painters turn the sun into a yellow spot. Other painters turn a yellow spot into the sun.” If you make a few small changes you just might turn Summit County into an even brighter region for you and those around you.