Have you ever been around a super-sweet, jaggery-like, “just think happy thoughts”, “be happy always,” or “good-vibes only” kind of a person? In other words, Pollyanna kind of person who has the “Glad-Game” attitude?

It is a well-known saying that excess of anything is bad. And this article is written with the prime purpose of discussing why is excessive optimism bad. It will help you to avoid the positivity trap through the famous story of a girl named Pollyanna and her attitude of playing the Glad Game.

What is this Pollyanna’s Glad Game?

The story of Pollyanna was originally published in 1913 in a novel by Eleanor H. Porter. Pollyanna is the protagonist of the story. Orphaned after her widowed father dies, twelve-year-old Pollyanna is sent to live with a stern, aloof auntie. She was a positive, truly enthusiastic, and cheerful young girl who saw good things in all people and circumstances. And her GLAD game was all about finding something good, something positive, even when disaster hits. She completely refused to see the bad in anything she experienced. (Read the full story of Pollyanna here.)

This story when written gained immense popularity as it discussed the importance of optimism. Sadly now in this era, this attitude doesn’t seem to be realistic, because the story was not just optimistic but over-optimistic or unrealistic. Dictionary.com defines Pollyanna as an “excessively or blindly optimistic person”. And today, Pollyana’s attitude is also called as Toxic-Positivity or The Positivity Trap. (The reason you will get to know in the next paragraph). Many Psychologists have explained the side effects of such toxic positivity and its harmful effects on one’s mental and emotional health.

Signs that you have an attitude like that of Pollyanna.

Sign #1: You completely ignore your negative emotions.

You have taken “Be-Positive” so seriously that you don’t allow yourself to even feel your other emotions. You keep on denying your negative emotions.

Sign #2: You feel guilty for being unproductive or overwhelmed.

Sometimes it’s okay to not be okay. You can’t be productive 24×7 when you have a stream of thoughts wandering in your mind.

Sign #3: You hide your painful emotions.

You suppress your emotions rather than express them. Hiding or denying your feelings leads to more stress on your body. If you don’t find a way to dump these thoughts of yours, your inner soul will keep on suffering because of this.

Sign #4: You have turned deaf and insensitive to sensitive situations.

What do you think will happen if you smile at a funeral? Or if you console someone who has lost many of her family members in this COVID pandemic. Or someone whose struggle seems to be never-ending while looking for a job.

Optimism is optimistic only to a certain point, only when it fits a situation. Your “Everything happens for a reason” doesn’t help in any such situations.

Sign #5: Looking for a silver lining even in a disaster.

Even I can give you a list of more than 100 reasons that make me happy, but that doesn’t mean I am always happy. That doesn’t mean I am not allowed to have grumpy moods or I can’t complain about my weaknesses or regrets about my decisions ever. I am a human who has a lot of imperfections, who constantly thrive to work on those imperfections, not an ever-smiling Laughing Buddha ( that we keep on our bedrooms or other places for feel-good vibes.) When I am down, none of those factors come to rescue me from those emotions.

Every dark cloud has a silver lining, but lightning kills hundreds of people each year who try to find it.


― E.L. Kersten

Sign #6: You keep on reciting positive or feel-good quotes in front of a grieving person, which further worsens their situation.

That person’s grieve is much much greater than your unsolicited advice.

Related post: How to calm your wandering mind?

When does this “Glad game” become toxic?

Positive thinking is too frequently seen as a way to deny negative challenges in life and anyone who casts doubts on a positive attitude is seen as some sort of unbeliever. But just like anything else done in excess, when positivity is used to cover up or silence the natural human experiences or emotions, it becomes toxic. 

We’re all collectively battling feelings of loneliness, anxiety, failures, and fear of something. Your “positive vibes only” mantra can be particularly grating during times of intense personal distress. When people are coping with situations such as financial troubles, job loss, illness, or the loss of a loved one, if you advise them to look on the bright side, that’s just like putting salt on their wounds. Too many exponents of words of motivation at that time make you act like that girl Pollyanna.

On a personal note, I am an optimist by nature. Despite this, my life has not been as successful as I would have liked. Moreover, I feel the majority of people reading this will have experienced the same. Many times, especially in the midst of chronic pain; it’s actually hard to find something, anything, for which you can be thankful or for which you can play “The Glad Game.” When you are hurt, all you can think of is your pain. Those are the real facts. We all make mistakes and we all are screwed sometimes. But that doesn’t mean we start living in a fantasy world like that Pollyanna.

How to deal with this Glad Game?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m in support of looking on the bright side. But have you ever noticed, without the dark side, there can be no bright side?

If you are optimistic it’s better, but if you are labeled by your friends as “Pollyannaish” then it’s an insult. In modern times the name ‘Pollyanna’ has come to represent a person who looks at the world in a naive and perhaps unrealistically positive manner. Such an ideal case doesn’t exist, so let’s be a little more practical. Let’s find some realistic ways to deal with this “Glad-Game”.

  • Be honest about your feelings, whether positive or negative. What’s the need to create a fake emotional world when your reality is different?
  • Identify and accept your emotions rather than trying to avoid or suppress them.
  • During your tough times, you don’t need constant validation from strangers on the internet. Rather you need support from your trusted people, your real and non-judgemental ones. No motivational quotes can give you an ever-lasting motivation as a real friend or your support system can.
  • If you had to choose between constant negative feedback or no feedback at all, what would you like to choose? Learn to accept your mistakes as well as to deal with your critics.
  • Pointing out your mistakes, or your faults that need Improvements isn’t wrong or bad. It’s needed if you want to be better and stronger.

In other words, we have to accept we have problems in life, understand them, and approach them in a positive manner.

SUMMARY

No doubt that the internet is full of uplifting quotes and phrases that are meant to inspire positivity in a helpful way. But positivity doesn’t imply ignoring the negativity. Rather avoiding your negative emotions makes you feel worse.

Pollyanna lived in her own fantasy world. But you have to live in this real world. So take your decisions accordingly.

Author

A lover of nature, reading and writing

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