There’s a scene in an Apple TV series, Shrinking when Brian asks Jimmy why he ghosted him for a year.
And Jimmy tells Brian that he wouldn’t let him be miserable and that Brian’s catchphrase, ‘everything goes my way,’ was too much to hear for someone whose wife died.
And this sums up how wanting to cheer someone up can slide into bright-siding rather than support.
Sometimes you want or need to be miserable and don’t want someone doing their best to make you feel better or tell you how things could be worse.
Trying to rush them will make them feel worse.
When my dad died suddenly at 52, I had two baby girls to look after and little room to grieve. And my then-husband thought it would be a good idea for us to go on holiday to cheer me up.
His intentions were good and loving, but I hated every second. Holidays with a baby and a toddler are fraught at best, and I felt that I wasn’t allowed to be sad as I was on holiday.
I didn’t want to be the dark cloud in the blue sky.
Taking our daughters out for the day so I could lie in a dark room with a blanket over my head and wail would have been kinder than taking me away to cheer me up.
And it’s particularly frustrating and difficult to tell the bright-sider what they’re doing wrong when they’re just trying to make you feel better.
If you’re feeling unhappy or low, you don’t want someone to reframe your situation or give reasons to be happy.
You want negative validation; you want people to tell you it’s ok to feel how you feel.
You want support.
Telling someone to cheer up when they are at their least cheery is when bright siding can slide into toxic positivity in a shiny wrapper.
We’ve all come across the kind of person that says everything is great.
All the time.
If a tornado had relocated his family to Kansas, he’d still say everything is wonderful when you bumped into him.
The kind of person who will never embrace the suck. Because that would mean accepting that sometimes we aren’t feeling the love.
And accepting that it doesn’t matter that you feel sad sometimes.
As Barbara Ehrenreich says in her book, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, we can deal with problems without reverting to negativity or false positive thinking.
Whilst being around someone with a sunny nature is uplifting, you can spot fake upbeat happy clappiness from a mile away.
And you make sure you stay a mile away.
Don’t Say You’ve Got Lots to be Grateful For
You know you have. At least, I hope you do.
But when you’re upset or sad, you don’t want to be reminded of what you should be grateful for.
If you tell someone to focus on what you can be grateful for when they’re in a bad place, even if you’re trying to be kind, it sounds like you’re saying they should ignore their problems and that you’re dismissing what’s going on for them.
And it can also sound as if you don’t want to listen to their problems.
Standing alongside someone, even metaphorically, while they go through their feelings and being there to help them out of their pit of sadness is kinder than telling them they ought to be grateful for what they have.
Don’t Say It Could Be Worse
This goes hand in hand with being told to be grateful for what you have.
Of course, things could be worse, but they could also be better.
Voltaire’s Candide, a French satire, was written in response to philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s comment regarding the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Leibniz said that as God made the world, ‘all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.’
Voltaire rejected this optimism and said, ‘Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable.’
And you might feel the same if someone tells you it’s all for the best and could be worse.
Oh, your leg has fallen off; it could be worse; after all, you still have another one.
Telling someone that things could be worse isn’t any help at all. When you’re upset, it doesn’t matter how much worse it could be; it feels shitty right now.
Don’t Tell Someone to Smile
If you’ve ever had someone tell you to smile when you’re wearing your resting bitch face, you’ll know how annoying this is.
It assumes that you’re unhappy when you might not be.
It assumes that you ‘should’ be happy and smiling.
And it assumes that others are upset by your lack of turning a frown upside down. There is an implied criticism that you’re not playing the game and need to buck your ideas up.
Next time someone tells you to smile, bare your teeth at them instead and see them run.
Don’t Tell Someone to Be Positive
Thought is energy. There is no form to energy; we put the form onto the thought. This means that, in structure, all thought is the same. There can’t be good or bad thoughts, just a good or bad meaning we put on the thought.
So a positive thought must be the same as a negative one?
Also, positivity is subjective. What I find positive might not be for someone else. My partner thinks jumping out of planes is a wonderful way to spend the day; it’s a positive thought for him.
Me? Not so much
When someone tells you to be positive, it highlights that, at this moment, you’re the human equivalent of a wet blanket, and who wants to think about themselves like that?
I can’t think of anything someone can say that might make you feel less positive.
Except you’ll be fine.
Don’t Say You’ll Be Fine
When a friend was diagnosed with cancer, her husband kept telling her that she’d be fine and that there was nothing to worry about until she snapped at him that he didn’t know.
He didn’t have a crystal ball.
He stopped with the up talk and started listening to her instead. He let her feel the feelings and didn’t jump in bright-siding, and they became much closer than they had when he was trying to make her feel better.
When someone tells you that you’ll be fine, you immediately have a tsunami of thoughts about why you’ll never be fine, and then you feel even worse.
If you want to support someone, avoid these bright-siding statements and hold a space for someone to feel all their feelings.
And if you’re in a bad place, remember you’re allowed to feel sad, fed up, or angry.
You know that when the time is right, you’ll start thinking about other things and feel better.
We’ve all heard the saying that time is a healer, which is both true and false. It isn’t that it takes time to get over something but that every day you think about it less, and so, in time, you hardly think about it, and you feel better.
Always looking on the bright side of life might have worked for the Monty Python team, but if someone starts bright siding you, tell them you can walk on the shady side of the road if you want.