Toxic positivity

Unbridled positivity has become a business religion

Over the weekend, I ran by a bunch of food trucks setting up for a Fourth of July celebration off the beach. One caught my eye with a truly on-brand message for Miami: “Surround yourself with tacos, not negativity.” Miami is rife with those kinds of public exhortations of positivity. An outdoor gym across the street – another oddity of Miami is people doing pullups next to the bus stop, no judgments  – gives me tough love positivity, “Only you can make it happen, so make it happen.” This kind of messaging is easier when there’s a lot of sun and the beach is beckoning. Miami is filled with people who wear “Good vibes only” shirts.

It’s also a reason I think a lot of New Yorkers roll their eyes at Miami. It’s all so… fake. Always happy? In this economy? Unbridled positivity has become something of a business religion, outlasting (maybe) the hustle culture. Like hustle, it takes something that most would agree is a good thing (working hard) and takes it to an extreme (performative obsessiveness). It goes hand in hand with the rise of therapy speak in business. Mitt Romney divided Americans between “makers and takers,” the positivity gospel holds that there are the sunny optimists and the surly cynics. As with most narratives, the narrator casts themself as the protagonist; the optimists inherit the earth, one TedX at a time. Much of LinkedIn is powered by this psycho babble that often reads as a reheating of Norman Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking from the 1950s. (Trump was a fan.)

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