“TRAGIC OPTIMISM” vs/ “TOXIC POSITIVITY”

by Ilio Masprone – Publisher – Knight of the Principality of Monaco for cultural merit

MONACO. Toxic positivity is an attitude of hyper-optimism that devalues any possible negative emotion. … Toxic positivity can be dangerous because it could make us fall into a state of denial of reality and it could force us to repress our true emotions. For some, positivity has been essential to coping with the time spent in isolation. Many have relished a chance to slow down and re-evaluate, felt grateful to still have a job or kept the good things in perspective. Of course, staying upbeat and expressing gratitude are hardly adverse practices, but research shows that this unrelenting optimism suppressing negative emotions do not help to dissipate sadness, fear, or anxiety.  This mindset can actually make us feel worse and is in contrast with an another and more realistic approach. The happy medium to finding meaning amid chaos is known as ‘tragic optimism’. First defined by Austrian psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl in 1984 as a postscript to his classic book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, the essay called “The Case for Tragic Optimism” makes the case for finding meaning in life despite the inevitable tragedies which we will experience. Frankl is, perhaps, one of the most accessible existentialist writers to read, and I assure you that the essay is very engaging and thought-provoking indeed. Proponent of tragic optimism, Frankl maintains there is space to experience both the good and the bad, and that we can grow from each. There is hope and meaning to be found in life while also acknowledging the existence of loss, pain and suffering. Today experts suggest that this kind of philosophy may be exactly what we need to cope as we’re still trudging through the pandemic and other emergency occurrence around the world.  A cornerstone of the philosophy is the ability to find meaning and purpose amid challenges and setbacks. Tragic optimism offers a perspective on adversity that helps people weather crises with more resilience and grow as a result of them. It acknowledges the difficulties and the pain and the suffering of what’s going on, and at the same time, the ability to maintain hope. Instead of letting these negative feelings overwhelm us – or ignoring them completely, as is usual for the course in toxic positivity – embracing tragic optimism means making a daily effort to feel comfortable with loneliness or anxiety. In these moments, we may learn we enjoy solitude, that we highly value community or discover who we want to be on the other side of the pandemic. So, although it may feel tempting just to grin and bear it, taking the slightly more uncomfortable route of a tragic optimist may help us see that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – and help us take a breath as we wait to reach it.

 

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