Some Good News vs. Toxic Positivity

“This has been “Some Good News,” reminding you that no matter how tough life can get, there is always good in the world.” –  John Krasinski

A year ago, in the first several weeks of the pandemic, my kids and I discovered something delightful.  Our weeks had been filled with bad news: school was closed, my work hours and salary cut in half, we couldn’t go to church or see our family and friends. We were grieving what was lost and afraid of how this would all play out. New heavy things were coming each day, and we dealt with them one by one, just as the rest of the world was doing. Do you remember that feeling?

The sun had set and the boys were brushing their teeth. I had just finished a very long workday and climbed onto my bed like a zombie. A colleague had sent a link to a YouTube channel called “Some Good News (SGN)” so I clicked the play button on my iPad.  

The boys heard the music and my laughter and climbed into my bed to watch with me. We watched episode 1, which aired just a few weeks into the “Stay home, Stay safe” order in the state of Michigan. We all laughed at John Krasinski’s jokes and watched the celebration of healthcare workers and teachers all over the world. I cried a little as an elderly man sang “Amazing Grace” through a hospital window to his wife. She was quarantined in an Alzheimer’s unit and he couldn’t visit her – but she sang along. It felt so good to see the best in people celebrated.

During its run on YouTube, Krasinski self-financed and self-produced the weekly SGN episodes designed to spread some good news to audiences who were staying at home amid the pandemic. That first episode featured Steve Carrell at home with his wife Nancy, and it felt good to watch the banter between “Michael and Jim” (who felt like friends) 15 years after The Office first aired.

We kept watching.  The second episode started with the same laughter and celebrations of good news around the world, despite all the hurt.  Then Krasinski interviewed a young girl named Audrey, a theater-lover whose once-in-a-lifetime dream of seeing Hamilton live on Broadway was crushed the night Broadway shut down. Her unused tickets were her only souvenir, until Lin Manuel Miranda appeared on the screen with Audrey and made her dreams come true by having the ENTIRE original cast join in on video from their homes and sing the title song.

Our boys had been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack, but had never seen the faces of the cast – there was no Disney+ at the time. It was pure surprise and delight in our house that night.

I was unprepared for the depth of emotion these heartwarming creative offerings brought forth. The weight that came with the beginning of the pandemic was a totally new type of grief for most of us, and these SGN episodes were not just an escape from reality. They acknowledged the complexity and uncertainty of our new reality and pointed to some of the hope.

We were ready to hear about hopeful things. Eternity exists in our hearts – and we are not meant to be suspended in chaos indefinitely. As John Mark Comer says, “Hope is about tomorrow, but it is FOR today.” Tomorrow is Easter. Holy Saturday is the ultimate day of waiting with expectation. The hope we have in Jesus and the effect he has on our everyday lives is the only hope that brings true peace.

How do we embody hope?

I am thankful for people who see struggle and grief and respond by creating something hopeful. This is part of what it means to be salt and light in the world. As Christians, we have a more authentic hope than what Hollywood offers (even John Krasinski). And yet, I wish I saw more hopeful creative excellence from people who know the hope of Jesus.

Toxic Positivity

Have you heard the popular term “toxic positivity”? I recently heard friends talk about avoiding toxic positivity, and I immediately felt defensive. A positive attitude helps us get through hard things! I thought.

If our culture thinks positivity is toxic, why has Mr. Rogers resurged in popularity?

Why is AppleTV’s Ted Lasso such a hit with audiences? (Ted Lasso’s character is endlessly positive and endearing – a character type we don’t see much of in Hollywood.)

Why did CBS/Viacom buy SGN from John Krasinski after a massive bidding war?

After looking up the term, I learned that it doesn’t mean all positivity is toxic. Here is what it means:

“Toxic Positivity is the overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state that results in the denial, minimization and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.”

So toxic positivity occurs when you become dismissive of all emotions other than positive ones. Phrases like this are examples of toxic positivity:

  • “Just be happy!”
  • “Think good thoughts!”
  • “You’ll get over it.”
  • “Good vibes only.”

By contrast, a key aspect of resilience is the ability to stay hopeful even in the face of trials, and realize that your current situation won’t last forever. There is an example of toxic positivity in the Old Testament, from Jeremiah 6:14. God is speaking about Jerusalem under siege and suffering, and what the priests are saying to his people:

“They dress the wounds of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”

The prophets and priests were undermining the grief of God’s people.

As Christians, are we doing a good job of acknowledging the hurts and grief of the people around us? Or are we telling people to “Cheer up, everything is going to be ok”? I think lamenting is important. Take time to lament what is broken today in your relationships, in your neighborhood, your church, your business, your city, your country. I think it’s ok to hold grief in one hand and the hope of Jesus in the other.

Here are some hopeful things that have pointed me toward true peace and joy in this pandemic year – with creative excellence and without toxic positivity:

Here are some things that are earnest and sincere and just for fun that I loved during this hard year:

Blessings to you, friends. May the things we create during this pandemic be hopeful and joyful, salt and light to a hurting world. May what we create attract people to the hope that is real.

“I wasn’t planning on being here, and you probably weren’t planning on being here either. But now that we’re here, let’s create some things.”

– Mo Willems

“I feel like I fell out of the lucky tree, hit every branch on the way down, and landed in a pool of cash and sour patch kids.”

– Ted Lasso

“Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside.
Great is Thy faithfulness.
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”

– hymn lyrics, Great is Thy Faithfulness

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