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Recently I was reading an article and the researchers explained that self-compassion is not, “merely a ‘Pollyanish’ form of thinking.” They were using “Pollyanish” as an informal way to say that self-compassion is not foolish.

Merriam-Webster defines Pollyanna as: a person characterized by irrepressible optimism and a tendency to find good in everything. They explain that the term was used in the early 1920s referring to Pollyanna, the young heroine of the 1913 novel Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter. As the slang became more popular, the author later defended her work by stating, “I have never believed that we ought to deny discomfort and pain and evil; I have merely thought that it is far better to ‘greet the unknown with a cheer.'”

While the label Pollyanna or Pollyanish isn’t necessarily used as a compliment, we recognize the benefits of positive thinking. Research shows that positive people have better physical well-being and an increased lifespan. They have lower rates of depression and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Positive people have better coping skills during times of stress.

So why the criticism of Pollyanna? A main problem is when people insist on only allowing positivity. Stephanie Preston, University of Michigan Ann Arbor psychologist explains that toxic positivity is, “when people are forced to seem or be positive in situations where it’s not natural” or people don’t acknowledge or “deal with the fact that there is distress or need”. It’s not an all or nothing.

Being called a “Pollyanna” really isn’t an insult especially if you temper the positive with other realities. A recent paper advocated using, “positive psychology practices to be part of a multi-disciplinary approach.” They went on to explain that not only can we build on positive emotions but we can also build up our self-compassion and the capacity to cope with challenges. If we insist or rely only on positivity, we won’t allow ourselves – or others – time to experience other emotions or chances to learn and grow through struggles.

Written by: Patrice Powers-Barker, CFLE, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, OSU Extension Lucas County

Reviewed by: Misty Harmon, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, OSU Extension Perry County

Sources:

Barlage, L. (2019). The power of positivity. Live Healthy Live Well, Ohio State University. Retrieved from https://livehealthyosu.com/2019/12/30/the-power-of-positivity/

Carter, S. (2021). Overcoming Pandemic Paralysis. Live Healthy Live Well, Ohio State University. Retrieved from https://livehealthyosu.com/2021/01/28/overcoming-pandemic-paralysis/

Graham, R. (2013, Feb 26). How we all became Pollyannas (and why we should be glad about it). The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/02/how-we-all-became-pollyannas-and-why-we-should-be-glad-about-it/273323/

Neff, K, Kirkpatrick, K., and Rude, S. (2006). Self-compassion and adaptive psychological functioning. Journal of Research in Personality 41 (2007) 139–154. Retrieved from https://self-compassion.org/wp-content/uploads/publications/JRP.pdf

Marsh, J. (2012). The power of self-compassion. Greater Good Science Center. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_power_of_self_compassion

Positive thinking: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress. (nd). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950

Stillman, J. (2020). ‘Toxic Positivity’ is a thing. A lot of us are experiencing it now. Psychology, University of Michigan. Retrieved from: https://lsa.umich.edu/psych/news-events/all-news/faculty-news/-toxic-positivity–is-a-thing–a-lot-of-us-are-experiencing-it-n.html  

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