Transcript: When Too Much Positivity Becomes Toxic | May 18, 2021

Steve sits in the studio. He's slim, clean-shaven, in his fifties, with short curly brown hair. He's wearing a black suit, white shirt, and spotted gray tie.

A caption on screen reads "When too much positivity becomes toxic. @spaikin, @theagenda."

Steve says WHEN SOMETHING REALLY CRUMMY HAPPENS... A JOB LOSS, A HEALTH SCARE, OR MAYBE EVEN A PANDEMIC... PEOPLE OFTEN JUMP TO OFFER WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT AND SUGGEST WAYS TO LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE. THEY MEAN WELL. BUT FOR THOSE LIVING THROUGH THE BAD NEWS, SUCH POSITIVITY CAN FEEL DOWNRIGHT TOXIC. WITH US TO EXPLAIN: IN BOULDER, COLORADO: DR. JUNE GRUBER, AN ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY AND NEUROSCIENCE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO, AND DIRECTOR OF THE POSITIVE EMOTION AND PSYCHOPATHOLOGY LABORATORY THERE...

June is in her forties, with shoulder-length wavy brown hair. She's wearing glasses and a brown sweater.

Steve continues IN OUR NATION'S CAPITAL: DR. PETER LIU, A REGISTERED CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST AT HUNT CLUB PSYCHOLOGICAL SERVICES, THAT'S A PRIVATE FAMILY PRACTICE...

Peter is in his thirties, clean-shaven, with short black hair. He's wearing a dark blue shirt and a black tie.

Steve continues AND IN OAKVILLE, ONTARIO: SYDNEY LONEY, A WRITER AND EDITOR, WHO RECENTLY WROTE ABOUT TOXIC POSITIVITY FOR CHATELAINE MAGAZINE.

Sydney is in her forties, with shoulder-length straight brown hair. She's wearing a printed shirt.

Steve continues WE'RE DELIGHTED TO WELCOME THE THREE OF YOU TO TVO TONIGHT. JUNE GRUBER, GET US STARTED HERE. EVERYBODY I THINK IS FAMILIAR WITH THE CONCEPT OF TOXIC NEGATIVITY. MAYBE NOT POSITIVE TOXICITY. WHAT'S THAT?

The caption changes to "June Gruber. University of Colorado, Boulder."

June says REALLY WHAT WE'RE THINKING ABOUT IS THE PRESSURE TO EXPERIENCE POSITIVE FEELINGS OR THE EXPERIENCE OF HAPPINESS ITSELF IN A CONTEXT THAT DOESN'T ALLOW FOR THAT. IN THIS CONTEXT REALLY PUSHING PEOPLE TO FEEL POSITIVE OR FORCING POSITIVE FEELINGS MAY ACTUALLY BACKFIRE AND HARM OUR OWN PSYCHOLOGICAL HEALTH AND WELL-BEING.

Steve says PETER, CAN YOU PICK UP ON THAT? WHAT'S SO BAD WITH TOXIC POSITIVITY.

The caption changes to "Peter Liu. Hunt Club Psychological Services."

Peter says IT'S WHEN PEOPLE GO TOO FAR AND DISMISS NEGATIVE EMOTIONS. PEOPLE TRY TO KEEP THINGS UPBEAT AND HAPPY BUT OVER TIME PEOPLE JUST FEEL ALIENATED AND MAYBE NOT UNDERSTOOD AND SHUT DOWN.

Steve says SYDNEY, THIS IS OF COURSE THE EXACT OPPOSITE EFFECT THAT PEOPLE WHO DO THIS WANT TO HAVE. SO, I MEAN, DOES INTENTION NOT COUNT FOR ANYTHING THESE DAYS?

The caption changes to "Sydney Loney. Journalist."

Sydney says THAT'S A GOOD QUESTION. I MEAN, IT COMES FROM A GOOD PLACE BUT I THINK IT ENDS UP MAKING PEOPLE AS THOUGH THEY'RE NOT BEING ACKNOWLEDGED THAT THEIR FEELINGS ARE BEING MINIMIZED AND THAT I THINK THAT COULD BE VERY DIFFICULT FOR PEOPLE.

Steve says JUNE, DO YOU WANT TO GIVE AN EXAMPLE OF WHEN THIS TYPE OF THING MIGHT TAKE PLACE?

The caption changes to "Pitfalls of the pursuit of happiness."

June says CERTAINLY. WE FIND THAT WHEN PEOPLE EXPERIENCE EMOTIONS, INSTEAD OF FEELING A DIVERSITY OF POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE FEELINGS, PARTICULARLY IN TIMES OF LOSS, THAT PEOPLE MAY TRY TO EITHER SUPPRESS THOSE EMOTIONS OR EVEN REPLACE THEM WITH POSITIVE FEELINGS. IMAGINE YOU HAVE A SICK RELATIVE OR FRIEND IN THE HOSPITAL OR YOU JUST LOST YOUR JOB, YOU'RE GRIEVING WITH SYSTEMIC RACISM, AND EXPERIENCING JOY AND EXUBERANCE WOULD BE INAPPROPRIATE AND THE PRESSURE TO FEEL IT MAY LEAD US ACTUALLY TO FEEL WORSE AND MAYBE EVEN AT GREATER RISK FOR DEPRESSION AND OTHER MOOD DIFFICULTIES.

Steve says LET'S DO A REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE OF THIS. SYDNEY, YOU WROTE ABOUT THIS? CHATELAINE MAGAZINE AND YOU CAN DRAW ON PERSONAL EXPERIENCE FOR THIS TOPIC THAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT TONIGHT. GIVE US AN EXAMPLE, IF YOU WOULD?

Sydney says THAT'S TRUE. I WAS DIAGNOSED WITH BREAST CANCER IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC WHICH IS AMAZING. BUT I SPENT A LOT OF TIME TRYING TO REASSURE EVERYBODY AND MYSELF THAT EVERYTHING WAS FINE, THAT I WASN'T WORRIED, THAT I WASN'T UPSET SO THAT THEY WOULDN'T FEEL WORRIED OR UPSET EITHER. AND IT WAS EXHAUSTING TO KEEP UP THAT FACADE ALL THE TIME. IT ALWAYS SORT OF BACKFIRES WHEN IT COMES TO A HEAD AND YOU CAN'T DO IT ANYMORE. IT'S A DEFAULT MECHANISM, I THINK. AND YOU'RE TRYING TO PROTECT YOURSELF AS MUCH AS YOU'RE TRYING TO PROTECT EVERYONE AROUND YOU FROM SO-CALLED NEGATIVE EMOTIONS.

Steve says WHAT KINDS OF THINGS DID PEOPLE SAY TO YOU AT THE TIME?

The caption changes to "Sydney Loney, @SydneyLoney."

Sydney says AT THE TIME IT WAS A LOT OF... AT LEAST IT WAS CAUGHT EARLY AND OF COURSE MY MASTECTOMY WAS DELAYED BECAUSE OF THE PANDEMIC AND ESPECIALLY I NOTICED THE TOXIC POSITIVITY AFTERWARDS, BEFORE I EVEN KNEW WHAT IT WAS. I DIDN'T KNOW THERE WAS A NAME FOR IT. I JUST... CERTAINLY AFTERWARDS WHEN I STARTED DOING SOME RESEARCH IT ALL MADE SENSE TO ME BUT THERE WAS A LOT OF THOSE COMMENTS... AT LEAST THIS IS TERRIBLE BUT AT LEAST THE WORST IS OVER NOW. AND IT'S "AT LEAST" THOSE TWO WORDS TOGETHER THAT SORT OF MINIMIZES THE EXPERIENCE AND THE FALLOUT FROM THAT THAT'S SORT OF THE MOST DIFFICULT. AND WHEN I STARTED DOING SOME RESEARCH I REALIZED THAT I WAS JUST AS GUILTY OF THAT AS EVERYBODY BECAUSE WHAT DO YOU SAY? YOU'RE TRYING TO AVOID THOSE UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS. YOU'RE TRYING TO MAKE THE OTHER PERSON FEEL BETTER, AND THAT'S SORT OF WHAT WE REACH TO. IT'S SORT OF THIS INGRAINED RESPONSE.

Steve says LET ME DO ONE MORE FOLLOW-UP WITH YOU AND THAT IS, RATHER THAN PEOPLE SAYING "AT LEAST YOU CAUGHT IT EARLY" OR YOU'RE YOUNG AND HAVE A CHANCE TO FIGHT BACK, WHAT SHOULD THEY HAVE SAID?

Sydney says I THINK IN DOING MY RESEARCH FOR THE PIECE I THINK I ACTUALLY DREW A LOT FROM THE PSYCHOLOGISTS I SPOKE TO. ONE THING THAT RESONATES WITH ME IS ACKNOWLEDGING THAT IT'S OKAY NOT TO FEEL OKAY AND ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THEY MIGHT BE FEELING DIFFERENTLY AND LETTING THEM TALK. INSTEAD OF ASKING "HOW ARE YOU? HOW ARE YOU DOING NOW?" AND KEEPING ALL OF THE OTHER SORT OF COMMENTS OUT OF THE MIX.

Steve says JUNE, CAN YOU BUILD ON THAT? WHAT WOULD BE THE BETTER THING TO SAY TO SOMEBODY SUFFERING FROM A POTENTIALLY LIFE-THREATENING SITUATION?

The caption changes to "June Gruber, @junegruber."

June says I THINK THE POINT THAT WOULD BE REALLY APPROPRIATE IS TO NORMALIZE NEGATIVE EMOTIONS. THAT IT'S COMPLETELY APPROPRIATE AND ACCEPTABLE TO FEEL SAD, TO FEEL ANXIOUS, TO FEEL FRUSTRATED. THAT THESE ARE EMOTIONS THAT ARE GIVING US SIGNALS ABOUT WHAT'S GOING ON IN OUR LIFE. AND TO ALLOW THE PERSON TO FEEL THOSE EMOTIONS AND TO PROCESS THE REAL STRESSORS IN FRONT OF THEM.

Steve says THAT'S INTERESTING. SO, PETER, THE ACTUAL PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, WHICH IS BASICALLY WHAT THESE COMMENTS ARE INTENDED TO DO, RIGHT, THIS CAN BE PROBLEMATIC AT THE END OF THE DAY. FAIR TO SAY?

The caption changes to "Watch us anytime: tvo.org, Twitter: @theagenda, Facebook Live, YouTube."

Peter says FOR SURE. BECAUSE I THINK, YOU KNOW, WHEN YOU ARE LIVING IN A CULTURE THAT IS ALWAYS PUSHING YOU TO BETTER YOURSELF AND IMPROVE YOURSELF AND, YOU KNOW, WHEN YOU WORK HARD, YOU CAN ACHIEVE GREAT SUCCESS, THERE COULD BE REAL STRONG FEELINGS THAT YOU HAVE TO KEEP IT POSITIVE, YOU HAVE TO KEEP IT UPBEAT, YOU HAVE TO BE STRONG ALL THE TIME. UNFORTUNATELY THIS CAN REALLY BE A PROBLEM BECAUSE THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, WHEN IT'S TOO FAR, IT CAN HAVE A DARK SIDE WHERE THOSE STANDARDS AND EXPECTATIONS OF YOURSELF COULD BE NOT REALISTIC AND IT CAN ACTUALLY HARM YOU GREATLY OVER TIME BECAUSE OF THIS NEED TO KIND OF KEEP IT POSITIVE. IT CONSUMES A LOT OF ENERGY.

Steve says JUNE, CAN I GET YOU AS WELL ON THAT NOTION, THE OBLIGATION OF THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS AND THE CONSEQUENCES THEREOF?

June says ABSOLUTELY. WE'VE DONE SOME RESEARCH IN MY LAB IN COLLABORATION WITH BRETT FORD WHO IS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO AND UC BERKELEY FINDING THOSE ENDORSING WANTING TO BE HAPPY OR WHAT WE CALL THE OBSESSION WITH THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, IT PARADOXICALLY BACKFIRES. BY THAT I MEAN PEOPLE FEELING LESS HAPPY IN POSITIVE SITUATIONS, BEING WITH FRIENDS, WATCHING POSITIVE MOVIES, AND IN FACT WE FIND THE MORE OBSESSED THAT PEOPLE ARE WITH PURSUING HAPPINESS IN AND OF ITSELF CAN ACTUALLY LEAD TO GREATER RISK FOR DEPRESSION AND SYMPTOMS OF BIPOLAR DISORDER AS WELL.

Steve says PETER, DO PEOPLE KNOW THIS?

Peter says YOU KNOW, I THINK MOST PEOPLE REALLY DON'T REALLY KNOW THIS CONSCIOUSLY. THEY'RE NOT REALLY AWARE OF WHAT THEY'RE DOING BECAUSE THESE FEELINGS CAN BE INTERNALIZED AND MAYBE PEOPLE CAN HAVE THESE WELL-MEANING BELIEFS THAT THIS IS THE RIGHT WAY, THIS IS THE HEALTHY WAY. AND SO EVEN THOUGH THEY'RE BEING VERY TOXIC, THEY DON'T REALIZE IT AT ALL.

Steve says WELL, SYDNEY, YOU KNOW, THAT DOES RAISE THE QUESTION THEN. IF WE KNOW THAT IT'S ACTUALLY NOT.

[AUDIO DIFFICULTIES]

Sydney says THAT'S A GOOD QUESTION. IT'S SO HARD NOT TO DO THAT. THERE'S THE REASON CLICHES EXIST, LIKE "KEEP A STIFF UPPER LIP" AND "ALWAYS ON THE BRIGHT SIDE." COMING FROM A BRITISH BACKGROUND, THE WHOLE STIFF UPPER LIP WAS ENGRAINED IN MY PSYCHOLOGY. IT WAS ALWAYS YOU HAVE TO BE STRONG, YOU HAVE TO BE POSITIVE, AND THE IDEA THAT NO ONE WANTS TO BE AROUND SOMEBODY THAT'S NEGATIVE ALL THE TIME. I DIDN'T WANT PEOPLE TO THINK I WAS COMPLAINING. NO MATTER HOW BAD IT WAS, THERE'S ALWAYS SOMEONE WHO HAS IT WORSE. WE'RE ALWAYS CONTEMPLATING ABOUT HOW WE'RE BEING PERCEIVED BY OTHERS AND I THINK THAT IS PART OF IT.

Steve says I SHOULD ASK YOU: HOW ARE YOU ANYWAY?

Sydney says I'M DOING GREAT. THANK YOU.

Steve says GOOD. GLAD TO HEAR IT. PETER, PUT US INTO A COMMON SCENARIO WHERE LET'S SAY A TYPICAL MARRIED COUPLE, ONE IS A NORMALLY CHIPPER, UPBEAT PERSON, THE OTHER PERSON KIND OF WALKS AROUND WITH A CLOUD OVER THEIR HEAD ALL THE TIME. DO YOU WANT TO GIVE SOME ADVICE ON HOW TO HANDLE THAT SITUATION?

Peter says YEAH, YEAH. IN THAT KIND OF CASE WHERE ONE PERSON IS MORE TOXICALLY POSITIVE AND NOT LISTENING TO THE OTHER PARTNER, THAT PERSON WHO IS MORE UPSET MAY BE FEELING INVALIDATED AND DISMISSED WHENEVER COMMUNICATING ABOUT NEGATIVE THINGS. SO IF THAT PATTERN CONTINUES, THAT PERSON WOULD FEEL MORE UNHEARD AND DISCOURAGED AND MAY SHARE LESS AND LESS OF THOSE EXPERIENCES OVER TIME. SO THE PROBLEM IS THAT THIS CAN BUILD UP SLOWLY OVER TIME IN A RELATIONSHIP AND LEAD TO EMOTIONAL DETACHMENT AND SERIOUS CONFLICT. SO WHEN PEOPLE ARE NOTICING THIS HAPPENING, I THINK IT'S REALLY IMPORTANT TO IMPROVE THE EMOTIONAL COMMUNICATION. TRY TO RECOGNIZE WHEN THIS IS HAPPENING AND TRY TO LISTEN BETTER AND REALLY GET INTO THE OTHER PERSON'S EXPERIENCE RATHER THAN TRYING TO REPLACE IT WITH YOUR OWN.

Steve says THAT'S THE KEY, EH, JUNE? LISTEN MORE, TALK LESS?

June says ABSOLUTELY. AND TO KIND OF FOLLOW UP ON THAT POINT. WE FOUND THAT PEOPLE WHO HAVE WHAT WE CALL HIGH LEVELS OF DISPOSITIONAL POSITIVE EMOTION, PEOPLE THAT TEND TO EXPERIENCE POSITIVITY ACROSS CONTEXTS, THIS MAY ACTUALLY CAUSE THEM TROUBLE IN RELATIONSHIPS WHERE A PARTNER IS SHARING SOMETHING NEGATIVE WITH YOU. IMAGINE YOUR PARTNER HAS COME HOME FROM WORK AND HAD A STRESSFUL DAY OR RECEIVED SOME BAD NEWS ABOUT THEIR HEALTH. WE FIND THAT THOSE WHO CONTINUE TO HAVE THESE HIGH LEVELS OF POSITIVE EMOTION IN THOSE RELATIONSHIP CONTEXTS END UP MISUNDERSTANDING THEIR PARTNER, AND THAT CAN POSE OBVIOUS CONCERNS FOR RELATIONSHIP SATISFACTION AND THE ABILITY TO REALLY CONNECT WITH OTHERS AND SUPPORT THEM.

Steve says SYDNEY, YOU RESEARCHED THIS FOR YOUR PIECE OBVIOUSLY FOR CHATELAINE. HOW FAR BACK DOES THIS, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO CALL IT, POSITIVITY TRAP, HOW FAR BACK IN HISTORY DOES THIS ACTUALLY GO?

The caption changes to "Subscribe to The Agenda Podcast: tvo.org/theagenda."

Sydney says IT'S NOT A NEW PHENOMENON, THAT'S FOR SURE. ONE OF THE SUBJECTS THAT I INTERVIEWED SORT OF COMPARED WHAT WE DO NOW ON INSTAGRAM TO BACK IN 18TH CENTURY PORTRAITS, IF YOU'RE WALKING THROUGH AN ART GALLERY YOU CAN SEE A MAN WITH A DOG AND HIS KIDS AND HIS WIFE AND EVERYBODY IS BEAUTIFULLY DRESSED. AS I NOTED IN MY ARTICLE, YOU DON'T SEE THE OUTDOOR PLUMBING AND THE SMALLPOX SCARS. THERE'S CREATING THIS ARTIFICE OF POSITIVITY AND AFFLUENCE OF HAPPINESS. IF YOU GO THROUGH ANY INSTAGRAM FEED, YOU WON'T SEE PEOPLE... MOST OF THE TIME WHERE IT'S VERY CURATED AND IT'S A WHOLE SORT OF... THERE'S A LOT OF ARTIFICE IN THIS WORLD WE CREATE ONLINE FOR OTHERS TO SEE. I THINK WE DO THAT OURSELVES AS WELL AND IT GOES BACK FOR, YOU KNOW, FOREVER.

Steve says I DON'T NECESSARILY WANT YOU TO THROW ANY OF YOUR FAMILY OR RELATIVES UNDER THE BUS HERE, BUT I AM GOING TO ASK THIS QUESTION ANYWAY. I MEAN YOU MENTIONED A FEW MOMENTS AGO YOU'VE GOT THIS SORT OF BRITISH STIFF UPPER LIP THING GOING ON IN YOUR FAMILY. DID YOU HAVE IT OUT WITH ANY OF YOUR FAMILY MEMBERS WHEN YOU WERE GOING THROUGH WHAT YOU WERE GOING THROUGH?

Sydney says I JUST WAS... I REMEMBER MY MOM SAYING TO ME YOU'RE ALWAYS SO POSITIVE, YOU'RE ALWAYS SO UPBEAT ABOUT EVERYTHING. AND I REALLY FELT HESITANT TO TELL MY MOM, WHO I'M VERY CLOSE TO, HOW I WAS FEELING. SHE WAS ALWAYS VERY STRONG GROWING UP. I NEVER KNEW WHEN TIMES WERE BAD EVEN WHEN THEY WERE BAD BECAUSE SHE HID EVERYTHING. AND SO I THINK I'VE INHERITED THAT. I NEVER REALLY HAD IT OUT WITH ANYBODY. I FOUND MYSELF DOING THE SAME THING WITH MY KIDS AND MY FAMILY.

Steve says IT'S JUST OCCURRED TO ME WE SHOULD HAVE INVITED YOUR MOM TO COME ON THE SHOW TOO AND GET HER SIDE OF THE STORY.

Sydney says SHE WOULD KILL ME.

Steve says LET'S NOT HAVE ANY OF THAT. JUNE, PICK UP THE STORY FROM THIS ANGLE. SOCIAL MEDIA OF COURSE HAS A PROFOUND IMPACT ON EVERYTHING TODAY. USUALLY NEGATIVE. I SHOULDN'T SAY THAT, BUT IT FEELS LIKE IT IS SO MUCH OF THE TIME. WHAT HAS SOCIAL MEDIA DONE TO THE TOPIC WE'RE DISCUSSING TONIGHT?

June says I MEAN, I THINK SOCIAL MEDIA IS COMPLEX, RIGHT, BECAUSE, AS YOU SAID, THERE'S A DUALITY TO IT. THERE ARE WAYS THAT IT, ESPECIALLY IN TIMES OF PHYSICAL SEPARATION, CAN GIVE US SOME SENSE OF BEING CONNECTED TO OTHERS. BUT I THINK THE DARK SIDE OR DOWNSIDE OF IT WHEN IT COMES TO POSITIVITY IS CREATING UNREALISTIC STANDARDS FOR HOW WE OUGHT OR SHOULD BE FEELING RIGHT NOW. PEOPLE ARE POSTING IMAGES OF SMILING WITH THEIR FRIENDS OR THEIR FAMILY OR GOING OUT AND DOING FUN THINGS, HUMBLE BRAGGING, ALL THESE SORTS OF THINGS. IT CREATES WHAT WE CALL A KIND OF DISCORD BECAUSE WE'RE ENGAGING IN SOCIAL COMPARISON. AND THOSE SOCIAL MEDIA COMPARISONS ARE SETTING UP STANDARDS FOR HOW WE SHOULD BE FEELING AND THAT'S NOT ALWAYS POSITIVE.

Steve says PETER, IT PUTS PEOPLE IN A DIFFICULT SPOT. IF THEY HAVE A BIRTHDAY OR ANNIVERSARY OR THEIR KID DOES SOMETHING WELL AND THEY WANT TO BOAST/SHARE THE NEWS WITH OTHER PEOPLE, IS THERE A WAY TO DO THAT THAT DOESN'T OVERDO WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT HERE?

Peter says WELL, I THINK IF YOU'RE REALLY CAREFUL TO SPEAK TO YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE AND YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AND YOU'RE NOT REALLY KIND OF TRYING TO MAKE A LARGER STATEMENT, EVERYONE IS ENTITLED TO SHARE WHAT THEY'RE REALLY GOING THROUGH AND SOME OF THAT IS POSITIVE. SO NATURALLY I THINK SHARING THAT IS FINE. BUT I THINK IF YOU'RE SHARING THAT ALL THE TIME, IF YOU'RE FEELING A COMPULSION TO PRESENT THIS FALSE FACADE IN YOUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER PEOPLE ONLINE, THAT CAN LEAD TO A VERY TOXIC PATTERN.

Steve says I SHOULD ASK, SYDNEY, THE EXPERIENCE YOU WENT THROUGH WITH CANCER, HOW MUCH OF THAT DID YOU SHARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND WHAT KIND OF FEEDBACK DID YOU GET TO IT AND WAS IT ULTIMATELY HELPFUL OR NOT TO YOU?

Sydney says I'M NOT... I ACTUALLY HADN'T TOLD A LOT OF FRIENDS AND FAMILY. I'M NOT... IT WASN'T SOMETHING I WANTED TO TALK ABOUT WHEN I GOT MY DIAGNOSIS. I DID END UP WRITING A PIECE ABOUT IT WHEN THE SURGERY WAS CANCELLED JUST BECAUSE I FELT THAT IT WAS SOMETHING PEOPLE NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT. BECAUSE AT THAT TIME IT WAS EARLY ON IN THE PANDEMIC. WE DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT ELECTIVE SURGERIES BEING CANCELLED. THAT WAS HOW A LOT OF MY FRIENDS AND FAMILY FOUND OUT WHICH KIND OF RIPPED THE BAND-AID OFF ON THAT ONE. AFTER THAT I DIDN'T POST ON SOCIAL MEDIA ON IT. I POSTED ONE SHORT POST WHEN I GOT BACK FROM THE HOSPITAL AND THAT WAS IT, JUST SORT OF TO LET SOME OF MY IMMEDIATE FRIENDS, I HAD SO MANY WELL-WISHERS SO I WANTED TO LET THEM KNOW WITHOUT MAKING A BIG DEAL OUT OF IT BUT THAT WAS IT. THEIR RESPONSE WAS GREAT. PEOPLE WERE LOVELY.

Steve says WE MENTIONED THIS ARTICLE YOU WROTE FOR CHATELAINE A NUMBER OF TIMES NOW. WHY DON'T WE GO BACK TO FEBRUAR, I'LL ASK YOU TO BRING THE GRAPHIC UP AND I'LL READ FROM THAT PIECE.

A quote appears on screen, under the title "Learning to embrace the negative." The quote reads "The term toxic positivity isn't bandied about much in academic circles, but there are other names for it, like unrealistic optimism.
It isn't just an individual problem -as a society, we collectively like to pretend things are fine, which can invalidate the severity and complexity of serious situations.
There's plenty of invalidating going on amid the pandemic. The 'we're all in this together' mantra that surfaced early on during the global crisis is both misleading and harmful."
Quoted from Sydney Loney, Chatelaine. February 9, 2021.

Steve says OKAY, SYDNEY, PICK UP THE STORY THERE. I KNOW, I THINK THERE GOT TO BE A MOMENT IN THE PANDEMIC WHEN PEOPLE SAID, YOU KNOW, "WE'RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. IF I HEAR THAT ONE MORE TIME, I'M GOING TO SMACK SOMEBODY," TYPE OF THING. DID THAT GET TO YOU AS WELL?

Sydney says IT DID. I DROVE DOWN THE ROAD AND PEOPLE AND COMPANIES ARE POSTING THAT KIND OF MESSAGES AND PLATITUDES. I THINK IT'S DANGEROUS BECAUSE, NO, WE'RE NOT ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, WE'RE NOT ALL IN THE SAME SITUATION. THERE ARE SO MANY PEOPLE, LIKE I SAID IN MY ARTICLE, IF YOU LOST YOUR JOB IT'S NOT LIKE YOU HAVE THIS NEWFOUND LEISURE TIME TO PERFECT YOUR SOURDOUGH STARTER? IT WAS GLOSSING THE SURFACE AND PUTTING EVERYBODY IN THE SAME BOAT, THE SAME SITUATION, WHEN IT'S SO MUCH NOT THE CASE AND THERE'S SO MUCH DISPARITY IN TERMS OF THE WAY THE PANDEMIC HAS AFFECTED OTHERS? IT SOMEHOW WENT AWRY.

The caption changes to "It's okay not to be okay."

Steve says JUNE, WHAT DO YOU SEE WITH THIS PANDEMIC IN TERMS OF TOXIC POSITIVITY?

June says I THINK I SEE A FAILURE TO... EVERYBODY MAY BE FEELING DIFFERENT THINGS. IN PARTICULAR GLOSSING OVER THOSE PEOPLE WHO MAY AT TIMES BE FEELING PROFOUND LEVELS OF DISRUPTION, OF STRESS, OF ANXIETY AND OF HOPELESSNESS. IT MAY BE GLOSSING OVER THE GLOBAL MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS THAT WE'RE FACING RIGHT NOW.

Steve says PETER, HOW ABOUT YOU ON THAT SAME QUESTION?

Peter says I WOULD SAY THAT WHAT I'VE BEEN SEEING IN MY PRACTICE IS THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE EXPERIENCING MORE STRESS THAN EVER BECAUSE THE PANDEMIC HAS FORCED PEOPLE INTO CLOSE QUARTERS LIVING TOGETHER, SPENDING MORE TIME TOGETHER, AND THIS HEIGHTENS AREAS OF TENSION AND CONFLICT. ALSO, PEOPLE ARE BEING OVERSATURATED WITH BAD NEWS. YOU KNOW, THIS IS REALLY HARD TO COPE WITH. AND SOME PEOPLE JUST OVERCOMPENSATE WITH POSITIVITY.

Steve says I WONDER, PETER, IF THERE'S AN ISSUE ABOUT NOT NIPPING THIS IN THE BUD. YOU KNOW, THE NEXT GENERATION DOWN TENDS TO MODEL THE BEHAVIOUR OF THE PREVIOUS GENERATION. SO WILL THIS JUST GO ON AND ON AND ON UNTIL WE RECOGNIZE AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT?

Peter says WELL, IT COULD, IN FACT, AND THAT'S WHAT I'M WORRIED ABOUT. BUT I BELIEVE THAT ALL PEOPLE CAN CHANGE AND GROW AND I THINK THE BEST WAY THAT PEOPLE CAN KIND OF GROW OUT OF THIS PATTERN AND SHIFT THEIR THINKING IS BY LISTENING BETTER AND VALIDATING PEOPLE'S EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCES AND BEING ABLE TO TALK ABOUT AND LISTEN TO THE FULL RANGE OF HUMAN EMOTION. ALL THAT RICHNESS AND CONNECTION HELPS PEOPLE ACTUALLY TO COPE BETTER WITH ADVERSITY. SO I THINK THERE'S A WAY THROUGH THIS.

Steve says SYDNEY, THERE'S AN EXPRESSION YOU USE. YOU CALL YOURSELF A REFORMED POSITIVITY PUSHER. WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?

Sydney says I MEAN THAT I WAS VERY ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE WHO WOULD DO ALL THE THINGS WE'VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT TODAY. AND WHEN TRYING TO MAKE PEOPLE FEEL BETTER, I WOULD USE ALL THE SAME PLATITUDES AND TRY TO BE... YES, THIS HAPPENS, BUT, HEY, LOOK AT THIS. AND I THINK NOW THAT I'M MUCH MORE AWARE OF NOT DOING THAT AND I THINK THAT'S IMPORTANT FOR PEOPLE TO CONSIDER IS JUST THAT SELF-AWARENESS THAT ISN'T ALWAYS THE BEST ANSWER TO SOMEBODY OR THE BEST RESPONSE TO A DIFFICULT SITUATION.

Steve says JUNE, HOW HARD A HABIT IS THIS TO BREAK?

June says I THINK IT'S NOT AS HARD TO BREAK AS WE THINK IT MIGHT BE, AND IN FACT THE MORE WE EDUCATE OURSELVES AND OTHERS THAT WHAT'S HEALTHIEST FOR OUR MINDS, OUR EMOTIONAL ECOSYSTEM YOU COULD CALL IT IS DIVERSITY. AND EMOTIONS AREN'T THINGS TO BE PUSHED AWAY OR TO TRY TO PROMOTE IN AN UNHEALTHY MANNER BUT SIMPLY INFORMATION ABOUT OUR WORLD, THAT THAT MIGHT CHANGE THE LENS THROUGH WHICH WE THINK ABOUT WHAT EMOTIONS ARE AND WHY WE HAVE THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Steve says HMM. LET ME FOLLOW UP WITH YOU ON THIS, JUNE. I KNOW AS PEOPLE ARE WATCHING OR LISTENING TO THIS RIGHT NOW, THEY'RE PROBABLY SAYING TO THEMSELVES, HOW DO I NAVIGATE THIS VERY TIGHT TIGHTROPE NOT BEING OVERLY POSITIVE. IF SOMEBODY HAD A FATAL ILLNESS, YOU WOULDN'T WANT TO SAY, "WELL, I GUESS YOUR CHANCES AREN'T GOING TO BE TOO GOOD ON THIS."

June says THE BALANCE IS CHALLENGING. WE HAVE TO TAKE IT ONE STEP AT A TIME AND REALLY ONE MOMENT AT A TIME. AND AS WE'RE LIVING THROUGH THIS PANDEMIC, IN THOSE CHALLENGING MOMENTS, AS YOU MENTIONED A FRIEND GOING THROUGH A REALLY CHALLENGING TIME, TO BE ABLE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THIS DUALITY THAT YOU CAN FEEL BOTH POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE AT THE SAME TIME AND THAT YOUR FEELINGS MAY CHANGE ONE DAY TO THE NEXT AND THAT OUR EMOTIONS ARE COMPLEX AND THAT THERE'S NO ONE RIGHT EMOTION AT ANY PARTICULAR TIME BUT THAT WE NEED TO ADAPT AND EMBRACE ALL THE DIVERSE EMOTIONS BECAUSE WE ACTUALLY KNOW THAT DIVERSE EMOTIONS RATHER THAN POSITIVE EMOTIONS ALONE ARE BETTER PREDICTORS OF OUR MENTAL AND MOOD HEALTH IN THE LONG RUN.

Steve says I DO GET THAT NOW. BUT, PETER, I WONDER IF THERE'S A CONCERN ABOUT EMBRACING THE NEGATIVE SIDE OF EMOTIONS TOO MUCH AND YOU END UP BEING A DEPRESSED PERSON YOURSELF WHICH OBVIOUSLY DEFEATS THE PURPOSE OF THE WHOLE THING?

Peter says YES, CERTAINLY, THAT CAN HAPPEN. AND WHEN YOU GET IN A NEGATIVE CYCLE, THIS IS FURTHER COMPOUNDED WHEN YOU ARE EXPERIENCING FIGHT OR FLIGHT, YOU KNOW, YOU ARE LITERALLY THREATENED AND YOU ARE THINKING MORE ABOUT THESE TERRIBLE THINGS AND YOU CAN BE LOCKED IN THESE CYCLES FOR A VERY LONG TIME. SO I THINK IT'S IMPORTANT TO REMAIN BALANCED AND ACCEPT THE WHOLE OF PEOPLE'S EXPERIENCE, THE LIGHT AND THE DARK, LIKE WAS SPOKEN ABOUT EARLIER. IN A WAY YOU CAN AVOID KIND OF GOING TO EXTREMES. IF YOU'RE JUST LISTENING TO YOURSELF AND BEING VERY AWARE OF WHAT'S HAPPENING INSIDE YOU AND SELF-CORRECTING.

Steve says JUNE, I WONDER IF... COULD YOU GIVE US SOME ADVICE ON THIS: IS THE ADVICE DIFFERENT FOR SOMEBODY WHO IS FACING A HEALTH CHALLENGE VERSUS A JOB LOSS VERSUS, LOOK, I'VE SEEN SOME PEOPLE, YOU KNOW, WHEN THEIR TEAM LOSES THE NIGHT BEFORE, THEY COME INTO WORK ALL MOPEY AND DEPRESSED THE NEXT DAY. YOU KNOW, THREE LEVELS OF UNHAPPINESS, OBVIOUSLY OF VARYING DEGREES. IS THE ADVICE THE SAME IN EACH CASE?

June says I THINK THE ADVICE THAT WOULD BE CONSISTENT ACROSS THESE CIRCUMSTANCES IS ONE TO ACCEPT THAT YOU MAY HAVE NEGATIVE EMOTIONS, RIGHT, RATHER THAN CRITICIZE YOURSELF OR BLAME YOURSELF, KNOW THAT THAT'S COMPLETELY APPROPRIATE. AND THEY MAY BE DIFFERENT, OF COURSE, LEVELS OF NEGATIVE EMOTION, DEPENDING ON HOW STRESSFUL THE SITUATION IS. BUT THAT HAVING NEGATIVE EMOTIONS AND ACCEPTING THEM DOES NOT PREVENT YOU FROM ALSO FINDING WAYS TO COPE AND MOVE FORWARD AND CONFRONT THE CHALLENGES TO THE BEST OF YOUR ABILITY.

Steve says SYDNEY, WE'LL GIVE YOU THE LAST WORD ON THIS. ADVICE FOR THOSE WATCHING RIGHT NOW?

Sydney says I THINK... I LIKE THE IDEA OF ACCEPTING AND ACKNOWLEDGING THOSE EMOTIONS. THAT'S ONE THING THAT I'VE LEARNED. INITIALLY I WOULD DO ANYTHING BUT BE ALONE WITH MY THOUGHTS SO I KEPT MYSELF BUSY AND DISTRACTED AND PRETENDING THINGS WERE FINE, AND THEN IN THE END IT MADE IT VERY DIFFICULT AND IT WAS EXHAUSTING. SO I THINK DO YOURSELF A FAVOUR AND, YOU KNOW, ACKNOWLEDGE THOSE EMOTIONS AND LOOK AT THEM AND APPRECIATE THEM AND VALUE THEM AS MUCH AS THE POSITIVE ONES.

Steve says DID YOU COME TO ANY CONCLUSIONS, INCIDENTALLY, ABOUT WHETHER MEN OR WOMEN ARE WORSE AT THIS?

Sydney says OH, ACTUALLY, NO. I THINK IT'S FAIRLY EVEN ACROSS THE BOARD.

The caption changes to "Produced by: Patricia Kozicka, @TrishKozicka."

Steve says GOOD. WE LIKE EQUALITY. THAT'S SYDNEY LONEY. YOU CAN LOOK FOR HER PIECE IN CHATELAINE MAGAZINE. PETER LIU IS HERE FROM THE NATION'S CAPITAL. AND JUNE GRUBER, WE THANK YOU FOR JOINING US FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO IN BOULDER. GREAT TO HAVE YOU THREE ON TVO TONIGHT. THANKS SO MUCH.

The caption changes to "Subscribe to The Agenda Podcast: tvo.org/theagenda."

Sydney says THANK YOU.

June says THANK YOU.

Peter says THANK YOU.

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