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How to Maintain Your Optimism

Stay optimistic, without falling into the trap of toxic positivity

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Being optimistic has many benefits from making your day-to-day more pleasurable, reducing anxiety, and building resilience. Some studies even show it can lead to a longer life!¹ Optimism is sometimes confused with simply thinking positively (which can veer into “toxic positivity”), but being optimistic doesn’t mean ignoring the challenging parts of life. Optimism has to do with how you view the world, even when faced with tough situations.  

This activity card will help you:

  • Evaluate whether your thinking styles are optimistic or whether they’re heading towards “toxic positivity.” 
  • Identify when you are using toxic positivity to cope with issues, and how to get back on track toward optimism. 

 The difference between optimistic thinking and toxic positivity.

 Someone with toxic positivity might think:

  • “Good vibes ONLY.” With toxic positivity, there’s no room for complexity or other emotions. 
  • “Just change your outlook and you will be happy.” Toxic positivity doesn’t account for the nuances of situations or address challenges such as mental health issues or institutional inequities.
  • “You’ll get over it!  Just look on the bright side.” It doesn’t allow for one to experience feelings. 
  • “Everything will be fine.” It doesn’t allow for one to prepare for a challenging situation. 

 Someone with optimism might think:

  • “This too shall pass and I will prepare the best I can for whatever the outcome.”
  • “This is hard, but I have done hard things in the past. How can I approach this with compassion?”
  • “There are some things I can do to manage the situation.”

 What to watch for if your optimism slides into toxic positivity

If you find yourself in any of these situations, sliding from optimism to toxic positivity, there are actions you can take to increase your sense of optimism. Here are few scenarios and solutions:

  1. If you find yourself suppressing negative emotions and feel guilty for having them, check in with your emotions and allow yourself to be curious about them. Remember, feelings aren’t facts. Reach out to someone who can help you process them.  
  2. If your words are positive, but inside you feel sad or hopeless, take a minute to sit with your thoughts and examine what’s really going on. You might find a more optimistic way to look at your situation. 
  3. If you find yourself being insensitive with others who are struggling and aren’t able to “look on the bright side,” it might be a sign that you aren’t able to give others what you can’t give yourself—space to feel, grieve or process in a holistic way. Take a step back and ask yourself what about others’ sadness is triggering for you. 
  4. If you offer people (unsolicited) advice and lecture them instead of listening to what they are saying, take time to step back, listen and empathize.  
  5. If you deny the reality of situations to the point where you’re unable to cope with outcomes or adapt to changes, create a “hope for the best and prepare for everything else” mindset.

¹https://www.bumc.bu.edu/busm/2019/08/26/new-evidence-that-optimists-live-longer/