Toxic Positivity: “Smile”

Three ‘Smile’ songs

Toxic Positivity defined: the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience. (taken from this article, ‘Toxic Positivity: The Dark Side of Positive Vibes‘ by Samara Quintero and Dr. Jamie Long)

I’ve had “Smile” by the Sidewalk Prophets running through my head today. It’s a catchy, upbeat tune, and on a good day, it suits me just fine. On a bad day, however, the lyrics rub me so very wrong. For those of us who struggle with depression and anxiety, this song has a ‘just snap out of it’ feel. Hardly helpful or validating. And yet, as frustrating as the bits of toxic positivity in the lyrics are, there are still enough truths that it’s worth listening to.

Lyrics:
Lost your way, lost your cool
Then you straight up lost your mind
Tried so hard to stay ahead
But you keep falling behind

Life is gonna pull you down
Make it hard to see
But a little change in your point of view
Could be just what you need

There’s always a reason
To always choose joy
There’s something deeper
That the world can’t destroy
Smile, when you think you can’t
Smile, get up and dance
Smile, there’s a bigger plan
The storm only lasts for a while
So smile

Happiness is wonderful
But it doesn’t stick around
Walkin’ on sunshine
Then here come the clouds
You can laugh or you can cry
When it all falls apart
But I believe the more you laugh
The more you heal the heart

There’s always a reason
To always choose joy
There’s something deeper
That the world can’t destroy
Smile, when you think you can’t
Smile, get up and dance
Smile, there’s a bigger plan
And you’ve got a reason
Smile, when you think you can’t
Smile, just clap your hands
Smile, there’s a bigger plan
You’ve got a reason to smile

There’s always a reason
To always choose joy
There’s something deeper
That the world can’t destroy
Smile, when you think you can’t
Smile, get up and dance
Smile, there’s a bigger plan
You’ve got a reason

Smile, when you think you can’t
Smile, just clap your hands
Smile, there’s a bigger plan
You’ve got a reason to smile

Go ahead
Get on up and smile
You’ve got a reason to smile

Source: Musixmatch
Songwriters: Ben Mcdonald / Josh Bronleewe / Hannah Ellis / David Douglas Frey
Smile lyrics © Mike Curb Music, Run Run Milo, Pencil Prophet Publishing, Josh Bronleewe Music, Curb Wordspring Music, Curb Dayspring Music

Our second Smile song has a distinctly melancholy, timeless feel that has weathered the ages well. Famous renditions have been sung by Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Michael Jackson, Seal, Diana Ross, and pretty well any lounge singer or wanna-be vocal artist out there:

Smile though your heart is aching,
Smile even though it’s breaking,
When there are clouds in the sky
You’ll get by
If you smile with your fear and sorrow,
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll find that life is still worth while
If you just…

Light up your face with gladness,
Hide ev’ry trace of sadness,
Although a tear maybe ever so near.
That’s the time you must keep on trying,
Smile! What’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worth while
If you just smile!

Though your heart is aching
Smile, though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
You’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow,
Smile! Let it be tomorrow.
You’ll find that life is still worth while
If you just smile!

That’s the time you must keep on trying,
Smile! What’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worth while
If you just smile!

Writer(s): John Turner, Charlie Chaplin, Geoffrey C Parsons, Giuseppe Gramitto Ricci
Lyrics powered by http://www.musixmatch.com

I’ve sat through several different renditions by a variety of well-known artists and can’t choose which one to link to. (Do you have a favorite?)

You know what? Even though the lyrics are still pushing people to put a happy mask on over their sadness, there is a vulnerability that the music somehow manages to let through with a touch of hope.

Our last Smile song is by Katy Perry.

Lyrics:

Yeah, I’m thankful
Scratch that, baby, I’m grateful
Gotta say it’s really been a while
But now I got back that smile (Smile)
I’m so thankful
Scratch that, baby, I’m grateful
Now you see me shine from a mile
Finally got back that smile (Smile)

Every day, Groundhog Day
Goin’ through motions felt so fake
Not myself, not my best
Felt like I failed the test

But every tear has been a lesson
Rejection can be God’s protection
Long hard road to get that redemption
But no shortcuts to a blessin’

Yeah, I’m thankful
Scratch that, baby, I’m grateful
Gotta say it’s really been a while
But now I got back that smile (Smile)
I’m so thankful
Scratch that, baby, I’m grateful
Now you see me shine from a mile
Finally got back that smile (Smile)

I’m 2.0, remodeled
Used to be dull, now I sparkle
Had a piece of humble pie
That ego check saved my life Now I got a smile like Lionel Richie
Big and bright, need shades just to see me

Yeah, I’m thankful
Scratch that, baby, I’m grateful
Gotta say it’s really been a while
But now I got back that smile (C’mon, smile)
I’m so thankful
Scratch that, baby, I’m grateful (So thankful)
Now you see me shine from a mile
Finally got back that smile (Smile)

I’m so thankful
‘Cause I’m finally, ’cause I’m finally
I’m so thankful
‘Cause I’m finally, ’cause I’m finally (Oh)

Ooh, I’m thankful
Scratch that, baby, I’m grateful
Gotta say it’s really been a while
But now I got back that smile (Smile)
I’m so thankful
Scratch that, baby, I’m grateful
Now you see me shine from a mile
Finally got back that smile (Smile)

I’m so grateful
‘Cause I finally, ’cause I finally (Oh, oh)
I’m so grateful
‘Cause I finally, ’cause I finally (Oh, oh)

Writers: Vincent Brown, Keir Gist, Ferras Alqaisi, Benny Golson, Anthony Criss, Josh Abraham, Brittany Talia Hazzard, Oliver Goldstein, Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson
Publisher: Warner Chappell Music, Inc.

Katy Perry’s ‘Smile’ is the best of the bunch for it’s honesty in persevering through and for not pushing toxic positivity onto the audience. Singing in first person on a reflection of lessons learned, the song manages to convey an authentic journey through darkness into contentment, thankfulness, and joy.

Being told to smile in the middle of hard times is completely different from choosing to smile after the hard times are over. (which makes this comparison of “Smile” songs unfair) Still, and perhaps this is what makes Judy Garland’s rendition of Smile so touching, there is something brave about going out into the world with a smile for five minutes when your personal world is falling apart. Brave and sacrificial. Brave, sacrificial, and sad.

Is it time to value honest tears over pretend smiles? Is it time to surround each other with encouragement to feel all the feels, feel it all deeply, and know that you are safely cocooned with the love of God and others? I love that Katy Perry’s song includes those little gems of lessons learned and that she recognizes God’s protection and blessing being a part of the hard times.

May God protect and bless us all as we process through pain without shame. May He unwrap the layers and fake smiles and help us. May our smiles be genuine and little candles of hope to others. ❤

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