Pisces II: Genuine Joy vs. Toxic Positivity

March 7, 2024
Reading time: 4 minutes
Happiness, Health, Motivation


During the summer of 2020, the height of the coronavirus pandemic, a massive joy bomb was dropped—on Apple TV in the form of an infinitely positive underdog, an American football coach hired to lead a failing UK soccer team to glory. Yes, I am referring to Ted Lasso. At the time, the show was lauded as a loveable outlier in the midst of gritty dramas and apocalyptic sci-fi shows, to say nothing of the fact that the beaming happiness of this little show was something everyone needed. It was a reminder that no matter how hopeless things seem, anything is possible when we believe in ourselves.

Over six episodes, we watch Ted bounce back from, well, everything. Stand-offs with his players, negative press, a town that lowkey hates him, and his wife’s admission that she wants a divorce. No matter what is thrown his way, he’s got a sunny perspective and a sweet Southern quip ready to go. How does he do it? Put simply, he doesn’t. Towards the end of the first season, we see Ted in a private moment, huddled in his apartment, alone, suffering a major anxiety attack. It is here that Ted Lasso stops being just a joyful comedy and starts showing us the dark side of what psychologists call “toxic positivity,” the act of avoiding, suppressing, or rejecting negative emotions.

Many understand toxic positivity as something that we project onto others—offering encouraging statements that we hope will minimize or eliminate painful emotions. However, this only serves to create pressure to be unrealistically optimistic without considering the circumstances of the situation. If we do it to others, though, we likely are also doing it to ourselves.

This week, we welcome the second New Moon in Pisces, a month the kabbalists teach is filled with joy and light. It is, after all, the month in which we celebrate the holiday of Purim. Purim beckons our joy. It brings us the gift of the removal of all negativity—which comes from our innate human desire to receive for the self alone. Purim is the complete annihilation of this darkness, both personally and globally. It is, as Rav Berg wrote, “a special cosmic occurrence that allows for the revelation of Light,” and it is taught that on Purim, you can transform any negativity.

However, we can’t transform something that we don’t acknowledge. We can’t shift something if we’re pretending it isn’t there. And we certainly won’t create the happiness we desire by trying to push away our anger or sadness.

The negative emotions we experience are our best tools to signal that something needs to change, but when we spend too much time and effort repressing or ignoring them, we’re not only saying “no” to our own evolution, we’re actually making our pain even more unbearable.

Emotions like sadness, grief, frustration, or anger are signals that we have experienced a significant loss or that it’s time to reevaluate some aspects of our lives. They help us to see and, more importantly, feel when it’s time to make a new choice. Instead of rejecting these feelings or judging them as “bad,” we can use them to shine a light on areas that need attention.

Obstacles and challenges will inevitably find us in life; it’s part and parcel of our growth. Our reactions and perspectives are the real key, the decider between experiencing genuine joy or toxic positivity. Ultimately, we choose how to frame what is happening and how we feel about it, and while this can bring up some heavy emotions, that’s actually a good thing!

A small study from Olin University showed that being comfortable experiencing and expressing mixed emotions was a predictor of improvements in well-being. Paradoxically, ignoring or evading negative feelings was associated with a decline in happiness.

“We found that those participants who were making meaning out of their experiences with a mixture of happiness and sadness actually showed increases in their psychological well-being, compared to people who were just reporting sadness, just reporting happiness or some other mixture of emotions,” Jonathan Adler, Olin assistant professor of psychology and one of the study’s authors remarked. “It seems that there is something to be gained for your mental health in taking both the good and the bad together.”

Feel the emotions, whatever they may be, without repression, without fear, and without judgment. Try to see the more challenging emotions as pathways to even greater experiences of happiness instead of the absence of it.

There is a beautiful practice that you can try that literally embodies this idea. A study out of UCLA Health found that conscious dance—a form of unchoreographed, intuitive dance—produced mental health benefits for the vast majority of participants struggling with chronic depression, anxiety, and trauma. By allowing themselves to dance ecstatically through their heavy emotions, they were able to move them and find peace on the other side. The best part? Anyone can do it anywhere, any time. Simply create a playlist of songs that you love, set aside 20 minutes (or even just 5!), and, with your eyes closed, allow your body to move any way it wants to, feeling any emotions or sensations that arise and releasing them with your movement.

Joy is our birthright; we have access to it in every moment—and even more abundantly during the month of Pisces. But this doesn’t mean that we don’t also get to feel sad, angry, or frustrated. Pushing away any emotion means pushing away the good stuff, too, and that helps no one! See every feeling as the message it’s meant to be, allow your emotions to flow through you like your breath, and watch as your joy and happiness actually grow exponentially as a result.

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  1. Jonathan Daniel Kruger Erbstein : March 14, 2024 at 1:12 am

    Amazing, thank you, so true. With the Light, we can face the challenges! Amen.

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