Is 'positive vibes only' trend helping young people deal with depression?
Is ‘positive vibes only’ trend helping young people deal with depression?
It is a phrase that has quickly become a platitude because of its incessant use among young people in Kenya today.
From social media captions to hashtags, the phrase “Positive Vibes Only” has become the flavour of the month, a power statement that captures an individual’s preferences on how they choose to live their lives and who they would rather surround themselves with.
Such people consequently identify themselves with a clique that wants to view life positively, come rain or sunshine.
Put simply, the expression is all about staying positive, thinking positively and spreading positivity.
And what’s wrong with that?
The phrase is believed to have been borrowed from the 1960s hit single “Good Vibrations,” by The Beach Boys.
But it was not until 2011 that the hashtag began gaining traction on social media.
For many young people, it became a movement - an endeavour, to be positive and block out negativity at all costs. It called for people to be counter-intuitive, to be aware that they were in full control of their own emotions and could choose to be happy even when tough times arise.
And while that seems like the only viable option when faced with tough situations, experts note that, over the years, the original meaning of the phrase has been lost.
“Positive vibes can mean different things to different people. To some young people, it is a movement, while to others it is an escape,” Nuru Amin, a psychologist based in Nairobi, tells Nation.
“What started as an encouragement to young people to savour happy moments and be in full control of their emotions has now proved to be autocatalytic. The phrase is now masking depression in many young people rather than helping them through tough times.”
For Mary (not her real name), her pursuit of ‘positive vibes only’ in her life began after an experience in a bad relationship.
“I noticed that I would get involved with one ‘toxic’ person after the other. Every time I tried dealing with it, the result was a falling-out,” the 22-year-old says.
“But I realised that it was easier to either cut off these toxic people or just be involved with them superficially, in a non-committal way because that way no one gets hurt.”
Mary explains that the phrase ‘positive vibes only’ consequently became her mantra. She surrounded herself with people who exuded positivity and would quickly cut off anyone she sensed carrying ‘negative vibes’. It is a modus operandi that has been embraced by many.
Nuru explains that such behaviour opens up a Pandora’s box of relationship turmoil, a non-commitment attitude and mental strain in the long run.
“It is important to note that part of being human means that we have various varying emotions that need to be respected. It is, therefore, unrealistic to expect constant joy from another human who is allowed to feel sad, angry and even bored at various instances in their day-to-day lives,” she says.
Young people, she adds, have consequently adopted a lower adversity quotient compared to previous generations when it comes to building solid relationships and safeguarding their mental health.
“The expectation to be constantly happy is causing many young people to call it quits early on in their relationships when friction arises,” says Nuru, the founder of Mind over Matter.
“Rather than process the emotions and deal with the issue head-on, young people are choosing the ‘my way or the highway’ narrative in the pursuit of positive vibes. It is detrimental, mentally.”
Experts have referred to this phenomenon as toxic positivity - when people mask their real emotions with a deluded narrative to remain positive regardless of the situation at hand and the negative emotions bottled within.
Christine Mwangi remembers being in such a trap all too well when her father died.
“I was just about to join college, but was forced to take a gap year due to lack of school fees when during the same period I lost my dad,” the 18-year-old says.
“At first I just encouraged myself to be positive, but then I started forcing myself to remain positive even when I craved to open up and express my uncertainties.”
She added: “I remember one time being in the company of friends and masking my troubles with laughter. The precedence set was ‘positive vibes only’. I couldn’t open up.”
The ‘good vibes only’ narrative has enabled many young people to embrace positivity and consequently improve their mental health so far.
However, Nuru suggests that young people maintain a balance and allow for the opportunity to experience other emotions when need be, lest they damage their mental health.
“In an idealistic world, we would all seek positive vibes, but realistically speaking, it is important to appreciate all emotions and use them as vehicles for healthy expression when the necessity arises,” she explains.
“Masking negative emotions is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.”
Young people, she says, should have it etched in their minds that it is okay not to be okay.
“We wouldn’t appreciate the light without experiencing some darkness. Similarly, we can only truly appreciate and create a safe space for positive vibes after we have experienced negative vibes,” she says.
“Both are a part of life, and learning to appreciate both as mere experiences goes a long way in forming healthy relationships and safeguarding one's mental health.”