The Leadership Blog

Toxic Positivity VS. Optimism

accountability fear growth leadership lessons optimism professional growth progress toxic positivitty Oct 01, 2023

Have you ever been around someone who is so sweet, you feel like you’re getting a cavity?  They’re the person when your dog dies who says, “at least you got to enjoy him for five years.”  Here’s another one…you just lost your job, and this person says, “there’s a better job waiting for you out there.”  I learned about toxic positivity this week listening to a podcast with Kendra Scott founder/CEO of Kendra Scott Jewelry.

She’s an extraordinary leader who started her global brand with just $500. Her company values are family, fashion and philanthropy.   She’s given away 60 million dollars since 2010. In her book, Born to Shine, she wrote about the difference between toxic positivity and optimism. 

So, what is toxic positivity?  Kendra defines it as forcing a silver lining in a difficult situation and not acknowledging that the situation is bad.  It turns people off and can make you seem like you're out of touch with the real challenges of life. Optimism on the other hand, according to Kendra, is not denying the reality of the situation, but reminding people that this is not forever and encouraging them to focus on what they can control. 

In a Science of People study, 67.8% of respondents said they experienced toxic positivity from someone in the past week. Have you?  I read in a Forbes article that, "toxic positivity can come from managers and leaders in an attempt to downplay the negative and encourage people to embrace change." 

I’m a pretty positive person and had to ask myself, do I do this? A quick self-assessment made me realize this is something I could fall into, if I’m not careful. 

I found an article in Psychology Today that offered some warning signs and recommended asking yourself the following three questions.

  • Are you afraid of conflict?
  • Do you lack confidence in your problem-solving skills?
  • Do you have a belief that certain emotions like anger are “bad” rather than recognizing that anger is often a healthy indicator that someone may be violating our boundaries?

If you said yes to any of those three things, you should develop an awareness about the condition which will help you avoid it and allow you to be more empathetic and an optimistic person that can have a stronger effect on others dealing with difficult situations.  It’s just like everything else in life, too much of a good thing turns into a bad thing.

Stay positive my friend but don't forget to acknowledge the realities of the hard times in life. Be intentional and choose optimism over TOXIC POSITIVITY.