Why Saying 'Everything Will Be Okay' Can Make People Feel Worse

Is #goodvibesonly a hashtag... or a command? While no one likes a Debbie Downer, we may be getting equally fatigued by the Positive People of Instagram, who tell us, using cute, handwritten signs, "Everything will be okay." If you're not inspired by their optimism, though, you're not alone. Experts say that advice to look on the bright side can actually make people feel worse–and have given this phenomenon a name: toxic positivity.

"While cultivating a positive mind-set is a powerful coping mechanism, toxic positivity stems from the idea that the best or only way to cope with a bad situation is to put a positive spin on it and not dwell on the negative," Natalie Dattilo, a clinical health psychologist with Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, told The Washington Post. "It results from our tendency to undervalue negative emotional experiences and overvalue positive ones." At times when illness or isolation (or a host of other serious, life-altering crises) impact people, this "look on the bright side" refrain strikes many people as tone-deaf. "So promulgating messages of positivity denies a very real sense of despair and hopelessness, and they only serve to alienate and isolate those who are already struggling," Dattilo added.

You can be positive — without being toxic

Toxic positivity, like anything that's toxic, is draining — but optimism itself is a good thing. Training your brain to find the good in a bad situation is an indication of the trait of resilience, which has been linked to success and happiness (per Psychology Today). The key, though, is to be clear-eyed about it; the words "positive" and "delusional" are not interchangeable. See the situation for what it is, and acknowledge those feelings. Then, troubleshoot exactly how you can improve things (per Inc.). This will mean living with the emotions of pain and hope simultaneously. "You can fight toxic positivity by acknowledging or recognizing that multiple complex emotions can exist in you all at once," Jenny Maenpaa, a therapist in New York City, told HuffPost

Note that this applies to your own feelings, and not other people's. When someone else is going through a rough time, resist the urge to offer solutions if you're not specifically being asked for them, so that you're not perpetuating toxic positivity yourself. Instead, support them by being a good listener, empathetic, and compassionate (per LifeHack). If they want to be told, "Everything will be okay," after all, they don't need to hear it from you; they can just get this reminder on Instagram, like the rest of us.