When Positivity is Tyranny

Had I known that invoking the immortal words of Bobby McFerrin would have spurned such a tongue lashing, I would have said nothing.

consoling without tyranny

“‘Don’t worry? Be happy?’ That’s your response? I’m bearing my soul to you, Shaq. I’m telling you things that I’m not yet ready to tell my therapist. You’re such an insensitive piece of shit.” 

Not good. 

An otherwise perfect day at the beach ruined.

Is there no waste worse than a day spoiled at the beach? A plucky, wide-eyed kid submitting to terminal illness minutes before John Cena‘s arrival would be a close second.

Don’t worry. Be happy.

Is it not perfect in its construction? Simple. Concise. Easy to execute. Just the flip of a switch. Doesn’t positivity, even in its most contrived form, attract good fate? “Good things will happen,” was what was promised to me.

As the sun fell into the sea, splashing pink ripples over the unimposing nimbuses, I saw in the sand a shadow running parallel to the one I cast.

“Shaq.”

“Yes, ghost?”

“What did you do?”

“I was trying to console a friend. However, she was unreceptive to my good natured suggestion.”

“Terrific splendour can be highly contagious at times… but you invoked the most obnoxious, clichéd, watered down positive mantra in history.”

“For my entire life I have been taught: look on the bright side, cheer up, cup half full, make lemonade. How could a mind set so ubiquitous be wrong?”

“Because positivity can be a tyrant. If happiness were as simple as snapping your fingers and all sorrow vanished with the snap, then why is misery–throughout all of humanity–chronic? When someone comes to you with the hope of being consoled, trying to sweep them off their feet with a catchy phrase, a smile and effervescent exuberance, most of the time you are making them feel like they and their problems are invalid.”

“Ugh now you tell me.”

“I hate to say it but this habit of positive whitewashing that is alarmingly common is why victims of psychical, emotional and sexual abuse are still marginalized.”

“Ugh I want to die.”

“You might want to have some compassion and reach across the barrier the tyranny of positivity has put between you and a friend in distress.”

“But what if they pull me down with them?”

“An authentic connection can endure for a lifetime. And should you stumble from your positive pedestal when reaching out to feel another’s real feelings, then it’s a good thing that misery loves company.”

And with that, the sun was set. Our shadows had evaporated, staining the sky black. It was time to leave the beach and make an authentic connection with a friend in need.


The Nicessist is a divine being that visits author Shaquille MacNeil in times of mental anguish.
In Nicessism, Shaq recounts the teachings he’s received from the apparition.

7 thoughts on “When Positivity is Tyranny

  1. I have been on the receiving end of the tyranny of positivity a LOT lately! “Oh come ON, it can’t be that bad! You have all these great things happening? A lot of people have it worse. Think positive, it’ll be okay!” Seriously? Now I get to feel guilty because I feel sad (or mad, or whatever). You said, “And should you stumble from your positive pedestal when reaching out to feel another’s real feelings, then it’s a good thing that misery loves company.”
    Thank you, Shaq! This is what I’ve been trying (somewhat badly, I should add!) to say for quite some time, now. Have an awesome day!

    Liked by 1 person

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