Combat “Good Vibes Only” Culture by Choosing Empathy


Bailey Bryan

“Everyone has benefitted from the positivity of others.”

Bailey Bryan, Senior Staff Writer

Everyone has benefitted from the positivity of others. Positivity can be infectious! But there are issues that arise, as there are some challenges people face that cannot simply be fixed with Band-aids like a smile in the hallway or the screenshot of an inspirational quote. There are times in which trying to put an optimistic spin on a certain difficulty can cause more harm than good, as it can suffocate the truth of the matter. This is the idea of toxic positivity. 

“Good Vibes Only.” “Smile.” “Choose Happy.” These are common phrases one can find slapped on a sticker or mug. All of which have good intentions behind them, but they also open up the door to a much larger gallery centered on the idea of positivity and its usage in society. 

The power of positive thinking has significant research that asserts its legitimate benefits. Positive self-talk as a mindful practice has shown to aid a myriad of things, from how successfully one copes with stress to their outlook on life. It can even result in numerous physical health benefits like better cardiovascular health or a greater resistance to infections, according to Mayo Clinic. Basically, hyping yourself up can make you both happier and healthier. 

Of course, as there always is with every miracle drug, there are side effects. While positive thinking can be a great solution for some, it may not work the same for others. Some struggles can’t simply be fixed with a new mindset. When individuals’ circumstances are disregarded, this is what creates the climate of what’s known as “toxic positivity.”

Toxic positivity is the environment in which positive thinking is prescribed as a one-size fits all solution to every issue. There’s no denying that having a community with generally positive and encouraging attitudes is a good thing; individuals can benefit when they are able to see others around them who are actively choosing to recognize the good they encounter each day. 

The issue arises when this becomes a substitute for facing one’s troubles, as opposed to a supplement. This occurs when positivity is used as an attempt to conceal or ignore the hardships that come with being human, suffocating one’s pain all while trying to put on a smile for the world. Toxic positivity can push people into the corner where they feel as though they must always seem happy or they are a burden to others.

Mrs. Caitlyn McIntire, theology teacher, believes that there are some problems people face that cannot be fixed with positivity, and that when attempts are made, they only cause further damage. 

Instead of making changes that will increase well-being, people are told to take more time for themselves, or think about all the good things in their life. This may be true if you’re having a bad day because Starbucks was out of pumpkin spice lattes, but if the real issue is systemic, then it is a violent denial of the real issue, and not only does not help, but is hurtful to the person,” Mrs. McIntire said. 

The dilemma of toxic positivity has two truths. The first being that positive thinking is a tool that can and should be used to create a happier environment. One that is like a personal cheer squad that encourages and roots for everyone, and maintains a positive outlook throughout all the complexities of daily life. But the second, the hard-to-swallow pill of a truth, is that life is really hard. Period. We all face difficulties that, as tough as they may be, are best to be accepted exactly as they are, no matter how ugly.  

“When communities are able to recognize the benefits of a positive climate but also allow the space for ‘bad vibes’ to run their course without being sugar-coated, that is the successful avoiding of a toxic positivity culture.” (Bailey Bryan)

This calls for us to have conversations about the distinction between these two contexts. No problem has ever been solved without people who were willing to discuss them. When communities are able to recognize the benefits of a positive climate but also allow the space for “bad vibes” to run their course without being sugar-coated, that is the successful avoiding of a toxic positivity culture. 

Senior Cali Wells believes that individuals who choose positive thinking are an effective tool to help encourage others to think positively. Cali has come to this conclusion from experiencing first-hand the impact of someone else’s positive outlook.

I’ve learned to look on the positive side of things and learned that sometimes my pessimistic view isn’t needed,” Cali said.

She also suggests as a preventative measure for more people to approach social situations with a perspective other than their own to combat toxic positivity culture. 

“It’s best to try to look at situations from other people’s point of view,” Cali said.

Cali’s suggestion is a call to action. By choosing empathy, even for situations that may be different than your own, we can all create positive environments that also allow people to express the emotions they feel until they have naturally moved on and grown from their experiences. You can’t have beautiful rainbows without the passing of an ugly storm.