To what extent should we remain “positive” when facing adversity?
Filipino celebrity Donnalyn Bartolome was recently criticized for her Facebook post that seemed to invalidate the feelings of those who were not happy to return to work. She mentions in her post that one should even be thankful for having to work instead of feeling unhappy about the imminent circumstances. Simply, she puts emphasis on people to “change their mindset” in alleviating these experiences at hand.
Being sad does not necessarily entail a deeper meaning. Maybe, people still find themselves in the geist of holidays, especially in the company of their beloved kinship and circles. Donnalyn’s statement made it seem like being sad about returning to their respective jobs means that they are ungrateful for the jobs that they are doing; that they are not happy with their occupations.
It is not always the case.
Whenever someone commented on her post about how her inclinations are not always applicable to everyone else’s experiences, she would respond by retelling her story and saying that it is possible “through positivity.” In one specific comment, she tells another Facebook user that nothing happens if “we dwell on negativity.”
With the post garnering waves of criticism and bashing, Donnalyn posted another status on Facebook, saying that her post simply came from personal encounters and that her positivity led her to where she is now.
While her experiences remain valid, what Donnalyn might have missed is that not everyone is as lucky as her and has been on the same path as hers. While maintaining a positive outlook in life might have worked for her, an excessive amount of positivity may be deemed as dangerous, or toxic.
Filipinos are so obsessed with the thought of happiness and resilience, as shown in the message that Donnalyn was trying to convey through her posts. The whole world has witnessed Filipinos course through rough trials with resiliency. It has been our trademark as Filipinos that whenever something tough comes, like a strong typhoon or even a devastating pandemic, we would constantly conquer it with a smile and beat the difficulties by being heartily and happily strong.
However, our obsession with resiliency makes us ignore all the negative and lopsided emotions. The persistence of this phenomenon etched an ideology that sadness is our enemy, and any form of unpleasant emotion will not help us solve our problems. We try to mask the pain through happiness as a facade, and while for some, it may be effective, concealing our genuine emotions worsen the pain we are feeling. As we block these negative emotions away, we also refuse to seek help and demand accountability because, after all, “a positive mindset is enough to beat the problems.”
Various studies in the field of psychology even recognize negative emotions such as sadness as an important part of our well-being. Karnaze and Levine (2018) stated that sadness holds a vital role in solving problems and even helps in behavioral and cognitive changes. Allowing yourself to feel sadness helps you see the situation in a better light and aids in signaling for help. In addition, sadness is also seen as an integral part of fulfillment, as it is an essential part of achieving happiness and satisfaction, according to Lomas (2018). Hence, whenever we attempt to conceal sadness and prohibit people from feeling negative emotions, we block a crucial part of reaching happiness.
With the number of disasters occurring in the country yearly along with the rising inflation rate affecting our national economy, it is undeniable that the Philippines is in its rough times with the citizens’ welfare at stake. Indeed, it’s bound to make people sad. Surviving, or at least having to eat once a day, would engrave itself as the primary worry of the people. A minimum wage earner has to worry about fitting their salaries into their daily budgets. A working parent might struggle to juggle their responsibilities both as a parent and as an employee working to feed their children. Nonetheless, we face problems every single day, and they can make us feel unpleasant emotions, which may either make or break our individual spirits.
To put it simply, sadness is not an unhelpful emotion, and the culture of hindering negative emotions and forcing people to stay positive must be addressed and put to an end.
Positivity is not wrong. I have seen a lot of people get through their struggles through positivity, but I have also seen people who have gone nowhere with it. It is time that we stop the romanticization of toxic positivity and resiliency that has deeply engraved itself into the Filipino culture– into our culture. Recognizing our realities, it is okay to be sad about certain things. It is okay to be sad when facing adversity, as sometimes, sadness is a worthwhile, valuable emotion. We should allow ourselves to feel displeasing emotions because then we could use these emotions to further our cause, demand accountability from the authorities, and ultimately call for action.
As for influencers such as Donnalyn, may we use our platforms more responsibly so as not to cultivate harmful ways of thinking, such as toxic positivity, self-invalidation, and glorified resiliency.
Karnaze, M. M., & Levine, L. J. (2018). Sadness, the architect of cognitive change. The Function of Emotions, 45–58. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-77619-4_4
Lomas, T. (2018). The quiet virtues of sadness: A selective theoretical and interpretative appreciation of its potential contribution to wellbeing. New Ideas in Psychology, 49, 18–26. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.newideapsych.2018.01.002