You Don’t Actually Need That Lemonade

We are all far too familiar with the line, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Along with “Stay positive!” and “Think Positively,” it is plastered on our throw pillows, our posters, our iPhone backgrounds, etcetera.   We are constantly bombarded with these messages, but do they provide the most constructive way to mentally manage the things that happen to us? Is it always healthy to over-rationalize our negative experiences in order to find the silver lining in them? This is a concept called, “toxic positivity” or “toxic optimism.”   When things happen to us, it is our natural human inclination to think either, “Wow, this is amazing!” or “Wow, this really, really blows.” And when something that really, really blows happens, we expect ourselves to find the good in that situation. I know I often find myself saying, unsarcastically, “but it’s fine!” after a lengthy description of a negative experience. However, in doing so we end up repressing the negative emotions that come along with said situations.   I think a less toxic way to process events is to validate your own emotions as if you were talking to a friend. You wouldn’t tell your best friend to “just relax” or “you’re fine,” so why would you tell yourself the same thing?   In validating your own emotions, you are telling yourself that it is perfectly normal to feel angry, sad, or hopeless. And it just is. By doing so we are able to process what makes us feel angry or sad or hopeless so we can move forward with a better and more realistic understanding of ourselves and our emotions.   To provide an example, one of my best friends from high school is known for her happy and bubbly personality. She often talked to me about how hard it was to constantly live up to those expectations. She was afraid of being upset or causing conflict because the people around her expected her to be the kind and upbeat spirit she was 100 percent of the time. In speaking to her recently, she has told me how much more comfortable she is with herself and her negative reactions to certain events. Her experiences taught me that being positive all the time is simply not realistic, and in turn causes inner frustration.   So perhaps a more constructive phrase is, “When life gives you lemons, you now have lemons!” Let’s see that on a poster.