Could ‘good vibes’ actually encourage superficiality, weak relationships, and poor mental health?
Now, I don’t know about you but I see and read a lot articles where if that were the case, it would be pretty bonkers.
After all, most are offering advice on how to be successful, how to push your hustle harder, how to be a better girl/boy/friend, how to detox your life – all sorts of things that are generally underpinned by discussions of ‘good vibes’ and ‘positive thinking’. This is backed up across social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram with hashtags rallying the #goodvibetribe to enjoy those #goodvibesonly and specifying that only #nodramallamas are welcome.
For a long while, something about these articles and arguments bothered me beyond their general superficial clickbait-iness. I just couldn’t put my finger on the reason why.
Given I often talk about finding silver linings and positives myself, I thought maybe it was just a kind of personal ‘ick’ feeling, something I found cringy – like a grown man calling another grown man a tuna melt – rather than anything more complicated.
However, it turns out I’m not the only one who has wondered if phrases like ‘good vibes only’ are bad vibes really.
One friend described how the more she tried to follow a good vibes lifestyle, the more anxious she became that she wasn’t doing it right. Instead of boosting her sense of wellness, she became increasingly stressed and unhappy.
Another said she felt there was so much pressure on her to portray a ‘good vibe’ mentality in her romantic relationships that she had to end it.
“My ex and I would talk about everything,” she said over prosecco (as per). “But whenever he asked how my day went, I felt a need to say it was all going brilliantly. Even when I had a bad day I had to spin it into a positive because he didn’t want to talk about it unless it was no drama. Having a bad day was considered boring drama.”
I heard plenty more similar stories and it made me evaluate a lot of what I read, write, and say.
From what I can tell, the problem with ‘good vibes only’ seems to be threefold:
- The phrase ‘good vibes only’ is often equated with ‘being happy’.
The GVO lifestyle takes place in a bright, filtered, instagrammable world apparently free from the ups and downs that come with being human. It ignores how we all lead complex lives with often tangled thoughts. It’s a superficial understanding of each other and the idea of positive thinking.
- Many places equate medical issues like depression and anxiety with ‘bad vibes’.
Around a third of us will suffer from a serious mental health problem in our lifetime.
Moreover, according to Mind: Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year and in England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week.
Suggesting a person has mental health issues because of their ‘bad vibes’ is simply ludicrous. You can have depression or anxiety or schizophrenia and still be a positive person. You don’t catch the flu because you’re a debby downer. You catch the flu because someone in the office has a four-year-old who just started nursery and they’ve become a walking virus.
- The implicit emphasis of the ‘good vibes only’ mantra is on the negatives.
As they say in fitness – you never achieve the body you want when you’re still focused on the body you hate. There has to be a mental shift from being a critical, tired, and flabby to a being healthy, beautiful, strong, energetic. It’s similar in positive thinking but when it comes to ‘good vibes only’ the ‘only’ has an implicit, exclusory quality. It is, in itself, made negative.
The thing is, there’s much to be said on the benefits of positive thinking and good vibes.
We live dual lives – ricocheting between hope and cynicism, love and despair, joy and grief, exuberance and terror, agency and victimhood.
Being optimistic, grateful, and positive about life absolutely helps you push through hard times and meet your goals. There are psychological studies on gratitude and optimism to back this. Positive thinking really can breed more positivity. You’ll walk taller, talk with more power, feel healthier.
But being optimistic, grateful, and positive about life does not mean that being upset, hurt, disappointed, or frustrated aren’t things you’ll experience. You won’t be – and can’t be – constantly happy. A lot of the time, it’s about accepting your bad days, your grumpy mornings, your life crises, that you have to let it hurt to let it heal.
As Marcus Aurelius said, “The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.”
If you do not recognise and accept and move through the spectrum of those thoughts, happiness becomes limited. You cannot have positive thinking without negative thoughts.
This is why language and the stories we tell are so essential.
Positive thinking and good vibes are all about action – they’re less about the end state and more about the movement, the striving, the bigger picture beyond our personal gain. On the other hand, ‘good vibes only’ becomes passive. It seems to imagine those involved are already there (wherever ‘there’ is), that the efforts are over, that if you’re not perfectly happy then you’re somehow toxic.
Almost all of my favourite online writers focus on positives over negatives in their work. From Bianca Bass and Emma Gannon to Kathy B and Grace Latter – even when situations seem dire, they pull out silver linings. Key though is that they is they all demonstrate a shift when they write – breakdowns become breakthroughs; struggles and stresses become challenges accepted; heartaches become poetry, become muses, become calls to action. They show just why what we each feel and do matters.
I see it in my own writing – I never want to end on a negative or waste a thousand words complaining (unless it’s catcalling because… well… catcalling). But here’s a truth: a lot of the time, I’m ending on the high note I’m striving for, not the one I’ve achieved. Quite often, I’m still working through an assortment of feels as I scribble. The metamorphosis of my thoughts comes through telling the story, writing it down, catharsis only coming when the pent up tumble of my feelings become words, become positive aspirations.
So yes, more than being a hippy-dippy Woodstock mantra that’s captured the internet’s collective imagination, good vibes are in the bass line of a great party; they’re caught amongst the uncontrollable laughter between old friends at three am on a kitchen floor; bubbling the moment before the lights go up on your favourite band. They’re in the warmth on your face as sunlight drips through the trees. They’re staring back as you walk into the bar and catch onto a stranger’s crooked smile and feel, know, they’ll change your life for the better.
Good vibes are also the uplift, the energy, the bright, warm, contented, beautiful feeling you experience because of a particular person, place, or moment. They’re the stories that give you hope.
But they are not the vibes that will tell you that everything is fine, or will be better. They are about action, motion, sharing, accepting the messiness of being human, refusing to accept the superficiality or laziness of optimism.
And that’s exactly what ‘good vibes only’ forgets – that there is tremendous suffering and trauma in the world and you cannot live a good life without knowing, recognising, and acting upon it.