In praise of pessimism #3

Happy new year and so on. Any New Year’s resolutions? Quite a while ago I shared an article warning us about the rash of ‘new year, new you’ fluff we face each January. Here’s another critique of the wellness industry.

The art of negativity: On rejecting positive thinkingPrzekrój Magazine
Modern society enforces a bias towards positivity and forward-thinking attitudes; one of the many curses of late capitalism. Workplace presenteeism in the name of corporate productivity is one symptom of this, but so too are the vapid platitudes peddled by tabloid media and the subtle determinism of ‘Like’ buttons on social media. In any case, this prevailing upbeat wind can often blow us out to sea, leaving those with negative emotions like castaways clad in counterfeit joy. The demand for constant optimism leaves many trying to hide the shame or resentment of experiencing negative thoughts and feelings. Human experience runs the full gamut of sentiment, and sometimes we have no choice but to roll with the punches and accept the negative side of life. […]

In fact, it could be argued that so-called ‘toxic positivity’ is more hazardous a phenomenon than the matter-of-fact attitude of negativity. In vogue as a psychological phenomenon, toxic positivity is essentially the idea that negative emotions are inherently ‘bad’ and that the most suitable response to emotional turmoil or pain is always a positive mindset (however inappropriate that may be.) Indeed, toxic positivity at large has become so ubiquitous as to represent something of an inculcated attitude in some people’s everyday interactions with one another. It is the (often unintentional) gaslighting platitudes desperately rendered in response to negativity. “Everything happens for a reason,” the terminally ill patient hears; “It could be worse,” someone bleats as another loses their job; or, “At least you have your health,” says the friend to a fresh divorcée. […]

As Oliver Burkeman described earlier, those wonderfully transformative and giddily affirmative self-help books don’t keep on selling despite the fact that they don’t work, but rather because they don’t work. This article continues with another take on that.

The so-called ‘wellness’ industry swindles consumers by selling the idea of positive wellbeing to a vulnerable customer base desperately sinking money into spa retreats, dieting, juice cleanses and holistic therapies. Wellness capitalism is the symptom of a much more corrosive condition; as if more consumption were the answer to healing the wounds of capitalism. In reality, the promises of ‘mindfulness’, ‘positive mental attitude’ and ‘healthy living’ pledged by the industrial wellness complex are exposed as just one more arrow in the quiver of exploitation. There is nothing revolutionary about paying for a product. Under late capitalism, we are always alienated, cheated and ripped-off: why should this business model of idealized versions of the salubrious self be any different?

Nothing like a little positivity to start the year, eh?

Author: Terry Madeley

Works with student data and enjoys reading about art, data, education and technology.

One thought on “In praise of pessimism #3”

  1. Mindless mindfulness, grit and rigor (grigor), and coerced gratitude are the cursed toxic triumvirate of modern education and the misery of the contagion that is positive psychology. The soma of our age.
    Let the muscles on your face relax. Breathe deeply. Are you smiling? NO.

    Like

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