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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

You’re walking with a friend. It’s been silent for a while, and the silence is getting slightly uncomfortable. To fill the silence, you comment about how cold and tired you are. They go, “Ugh, I know right!? Me too. It’s the worst.” You add on again, and you feel satisfied; the silence is filled. But in reality, you’re not really that bothered by being tired or cold. 

It’s a normal cliché — filling the air with commentary that we know others are bound to agree with and jump in on. You don’t get the same validation from commenting on how happy you are, or how great your day has been. But why is that the culture? Why is negativity normal and natural, yet positivity is fraudulent, or obnoxious? 

I understand it may not seem important. Especially as college students, our minds are filled with stress, confusion, and a heap of mixed emotions. Why wouldn’t most of our conversations be about these issues as we all try to navigate the trials of young adulthood? But these small moments can manifest into large clouds of negativity in our minds, in ways we may not be conscious of. 

That is why it is even more imperative during this unique time of our lives that we choose to fill these small spaces with joy and positivity. If we all do our part in creating a positive culture of communication, we can even slightly change our outlook as we move through the chaos that is our lives as students, workers, friends, lovers, and family members.  

I began to shift this mindset when I began college last year. In the past, when I would come home from school and bounce negative emotions or ideas off my parents after a long day of classes, they were there to be empathetic, and then put a positive spin on it. Being surrounded by only college students, I noticed this culture of negative self-talk and negative verbiage that was relentless. I consider myself a pretty positive, upbeat person. And as much as I was aware of it, I, too, am human. I fell victim to the stress and pressure of college, and I could completely relate to every woe, worry, and complaint that my friends were going through. It became comforting, and soon, commonplace. 

Many conversations that I had seemed to open the same way. I was stressed, tired, and annoyed. From a sample conversation, it would seem that my friends and I were anything but happy, which I knew wasn’t the case. This was off-putting to me, especially when I took a step back and realized all that I have to be grateful for. Having the opportunity to be in college, to live away from home, to grow myself both academically and personally — there was so much to have gratitude for. 

However, I felt nervous to change the tides of conversation, because I didn’t want to come off as surface level, or even inconsiderate of the struggles people were facing. By talking about what I was grateful for, or what went well in my day, I thought that I would be perceived as fake, or annoying. I also rejected the ideology of “choosing happiness,” and I was aware that people’s emotions and mental health were completely valid.  

Instead of jamming my positive attitude down the throat of those closest to me, I began to independently think more positively. I began to say thanks for the things in my everyday life that meant a lot to me, and when I started to do this, I realized that I started to see the world in a brighter way. When I started actively looking for the things in my life that brought me joy, I saw a lot more of them. Eventually, seeing the positive side of things became so habitual that I began to subconsciously say these things out loud. Walking to class, I would comment on how beautiful the snow was covering the trees or the beauty of other people’s outfits. I always would notice the look of positive surprise that would take over my friends’ faces, where we were used to inserting another commentary.  

And the most amazing part was, the more I did it, the more other people began to do it as well. Additionally, the commentary wasn’t just commentary, it was our true beliefs. When you say something positive, you have to truly mean it, because it’s not as easy to have others agree with you. These comments were genuine and could put a smile on someone’s face, which isn’t always an easy feat in the middle of college.  
Practicing gratitude is a small, yet important step. Giving grace for the things we have and the times we experience truly grounds our place in the world around us and gives us something to be happy about. When we practice thinking about these things, it catalyzes us to say these things out loud, consciously or subconsciously. When we say these things out loud, we engage others in our moments of joy.  

I don’t know if it is easier said than done, and I believe it takes a curated culture to achieve. I am beyond grateful that my friends and family have the most amazing habits of practicing gratitude towards ourselves and each other, but I have been surrounded by people in the past that certainly did not, so I am aware that it isn’t a completely widespread value. However, I do know that when one person begins to spread the small moments of joy they are experiencing inside, there is nothing other than love and happiness put out into the universe. And that is something that holds more power than a thousand negative comments.  

I realized that positivity did not have to equate to toxic positivity. And I realized that positivity is contagious. We cannot control most of what happens to us, but we can control how we choose to view our lives. Try it.  

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Ava Neely

U Mass Amherst '25

Ava Neely is a sophomore at UMass Amherst, majoring in Journalism on the PR track, with an intended minor in Arts Management. She is in the Commonwealth Honors College, and is focusing her career path on public relations, as well as magazine journalism and the arts. She (obviously) loves to write, and currently writes a fashion column, "The Minute Wear" for The Massachusetts Daily Collegian. In her free time she writes a lot of poetry and short stories. She has an ardor for art and graphic design, she is the Assistant Graphics Editor for the Collegian. Outside of college, Ava loves being active, and has an avid passion for spin! She loves the outdoors, which includes skiing and surfing. She is passionate about sustainable fashion and is a stylist in the UMass Fashion Organization. She hopes to one day work in a PR agency, or have a column for a major publication.