I’m the founder of Good Good Good — the media company that highlights good news and ways to make a difference. Since our founding, I’ve always worked hard to make sure that even though we cover positive news, our company and content don’t fall into the toxic positivity trap.

There’s a lot of good news in the world — but celebrating that good news should never come at the expense of ignoring the injustices in the world. In fact, most of the best good news in the world is a direct response to the injustices in the world. It’s not possible to fully appreciate solutions without also paying attention to the problems.

Toxic positivity is harmful, shallow, and leaves each of us missing out on the breadth of the human experience. Fortunately, we can learn how to avoid toxic positivity.

So, what is toxic positivity?

Toxic positivity is the idea that we should always maintain a positive outlook, even when we’re struggling or it feels like the world is burning around us.

The reality is: Life is hard, there are bad things that happen in the world, and each of us will experience loss, pain, and challenges in our lives. That heaviness should be acknowledged, not brightsided.

When bad things happen in the world, it’s important to be able to acknowledge those for what they are. When there’s a natural disaster, a violent tragedy, or another racial injustice, it’s inappropriate to pretend that those problems aren’t happening or to minimize how harmful they are. 

For someone who is struggling, it’s damaging to to hear toxic positivity from friends or log onto social media and see people saying to “just stay positive.”

And it’s just as damaging to share toxic positivity with others, it’s also bad to perpetuate these ideas to yourself internally. We each need to be reminded that our “negative” emotions are not bad. They’re normal and important.

At the same time, positivity in general isn’t a bad thing; it just needs to be in the correct context. In fact, that’s something we work hard to practice at Good Good Good. The word we use for it is “hope”; we prefer to use the word hope over alternatives like “optimism” and “positivity” because it carries more nuance and intentionality.

It’s possible to be hopeful without subscribing to toxic positivity. The difference between toxic positivity and hopefulness is:

  • Toxic positivity ignores the bad things that happen in the world and sits on the sidelines.
  • Hopefulness pays attention to the heartbreak, pain, and injustices of the world and plays an active role in creating solutions to those problems.

The “positivity” of hopefulness comes from paying attention to bad things, responding to those bad things by seeking to make a difference, and then feeling hopeful knowing that you’re not powerless and that you have the ability to create positive change in the world. That's healthy.

For a deeper dive into non-toxic hopefulness, check out our collection of quotes about hope.

What are some examples of toxic positivity?

Toxic positivity is anything that tries to hide the grief behind a fake smile. A few phrases and ideas that are examples of toxic positivity include:

  • “Good vibes only”
  • “Look on the bright side”
  • “Just be grateful for what you do have”
  • “Don’t be so negative”
  • “There’s a silver lining”
  • “Just be optimistic”

What are some great toxic positivity quotes?

Famous Quotes

“Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”
— Susan David

“Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.” — Susan David

“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”
— Brené Brown

“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” — Brene Brown

“Love does not require taking an uncritical stance toward the object of one’s affections. In truth, it often requires the opposite. We can’t be of real service to the hopes we have for places — and people, ourselves included — without a clear-eyed assessment of their (and our) strengths and weaknesses.”
Annette Gordon-Reed, On Juneteenth

“Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience. Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or quash it or silence it, only backfires. The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is a failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame.”
— Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

“We think that denying our emotions makes us stronger and more resilient, but the research shows that it actually makes us LESS resilient.”
— Brené Brown

“Hope confronts. It does not ignore pain, agony, or injustice. It is not a saccharine optimism that refuses to see, face, or grapple with the wretchedness of reality. You can't have hope without despair, because hope is a response. Hope is the active conviction that despair will never have the last word.”
— Cory Booker

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”
— Henri Nouwen

“When people we love are suffering, we want to make it better. But sometimes — often, in fact — you can't make it better. I'm reminded of something my supervisor said to me when I was a student chaplain: "Don't just do something. Stand there.”
John Green, The Anthropocene Reviewed

“I am highly suspicious of attempts to brightside human suffering, especially suffering that — as in the case of almost all infectious diseases — is unjustly distributed. I’m not here to criticize other people’s hope, but personally, whenever I hear someone waxing poetic about the silver linings to all these clouds, I think about a wonderful poem by Clint Smith called “When people say, ‘we have made it through worse before.’” The poem begins, “all I hear is the wind slapping against the gravestones / of those who did not make it.” As in Ibn Battuta’s Damascus, the only path forward is true solidarity — not only in hope, but also in lamentation.”
John Green, The Anthropocene Reviewed

“Feelings or emotions are the universal language and are to be honored. They are the authentic expression of who you are at your deepest place.”
— Judith Wright

“Optimism doesn’t mean that you are blind to the reality of the situation. It means that you remain motivated to seek a solution to whatever problems arise.”
— The Dalai Lama

“To be optimistic is to assume things will work out. To be hopeful is to realize things can work out if you work at them. Hope requires responsibility and agency; optimism relieves us of both. In rooting for your sports team, choose optimism. In rooting for democracy, choose hope.”
— Eric Liu

“To be optimistic is to assume things will work out. To be hopeful is to realize things can work out if you work at them. Hope requires responsibility and agency; optimism relieves us of both. In rooting for your sports team, choose optimism. In rooting for democracy, choose hope.” — Eric Liu

“Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of timing. There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny. And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it’s all over.”
— Octavia E. Butler

“There’s no difference between a pessimist who says, ‘It’s all over, don’t bother trying to do anything, forget about voting, it won’t make a difference,’ and an optimist who says, ‘Relax, everything is going to turn out fine.’ Either way the results are the same. Nothing gets done.”
Yvon Chouinard

“Optimism isn’t a belief that things will automatically get better; it’s a conviction that we can make things better.”
— Melinda Gates

“Optimism isn’t a belief that things will automatically get better; it’s a conviction that we can make things better.” — Melinda Gates

“No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.”
— Alice Walker

“Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists adopt the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting.”
— Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

“I am essentially optimistic. Being alive is incredible. Life is extraordinary and beautiful. It can be hard and sad and terrifying, but it’s all we’ve got.”
— James Frey

“What I am trying to cultivate is not blind optimism… but radical hope.”
— Junot Diaz

“What I am trying to cultivate is not blind optimism… but radical hope.” — Junot Diaz‍

“I am very optimistic, and I always think positive, but within reason and never getting too far ahead of the game.”
— Luis Fonsi

“I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.”
— Walt Disney

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”
— William Arthur Ward

“Toxic positivity is forced, false positivity. It may sound innocuous on the surface, but when you share something difficult with someone and they insist that you turn it into a positive, what they're really saying is, My comfort is more important than your reality.”
— Susan David, on Brené Brown’s podcast, Dare To Lead

“Toxic positivity is forced, false positivity. It may sound innocuous on the surface, but when you share something difficult with someone and they insist that you turn it into a positive, what they're really saying is, My comfort is more important than your reality.”— Dr. Susan David, on Brené Brown’s podcast, Dare To Lead

Quotes from Whitney Goodman, the author of 'Toxic Positivity: Keeping It Real in a World Obsessed with Being Happy'

“Contrary to popular belief, there are no negative emotions. There are only emotions that are harder to experience or that cause more distress for certain people, and the more you suppress those emotions, the harder they are to manage.”
— Whitney Goodman, Toxic Positivity: Keeping It Real in a World Obsessed with Being Happy

“Contrary to popular belief, there are no negative emotions. There are only emotions that are harder to experience or that cause more distress for certain people, and the more you suppress those emotions, the harder they are to manage.” — Whitney Goodman, Toxic Positivity: Keeping It Real in a World Obsessed with Being Happy

“In my work, I’ve noticed that people with invisible illnesses or disabilities are scared of acting too positive because then people won’t believe that they’re sick. They’re afraid of being too negative because then they aren’t being strong or fighting hard enough. They can’t win.”
— Whitney Goodman, Toxic Positivity

“Live a life that challenges you, fulfills you, has meaning, and brings you moments of joy. Open yourself to all emotions and experiences. Discover what you value and follow it until the end, knowing that sometimes life is going to hurt and that’s what makes it worth living.”
— Whitney Goodman, Toxic Positivity

“You can't think your way out of feeling. Understanding why someone did something hurtful won't always make it hurt less. Developing an understanding of why something is happening and making those connections is important. Without awareness there is no change.”
— Whitney Goodman

“You can't think your way out of feeling. Understanding why someone did something hurtful won't always make it hurt less. Developing an understanding of why something is happening and making those connections is important. Without awareness there is no change.” — Whitney Goodman

“Sometimes positivity is just denial.”
— Whitney Goodman

“Sometimes positivity is just denial.” ‍— Whitney Goodman

“Toxic positivity is a cultural force that reinforces: “If you believe it you can achieve it!” “The only thing in your way is you!” “The key to success is a positive mindset!” “If you want to be healthy you must be positive!” “God will never give you more than you can handle!” … Toxic Positivity leaves us feeling alone, and disconnected. It stops us from communicating. It stifles creativity and change. It silences people. It labels things as “happiness inducing” and “happiness preventing.””
—  Whitney Goodman

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