3 Solid Reasons Pollyanna Syndrome is Toxic

We want to be positive and hopeful while remaining realistic. While being a Pollyanna is a healthy mindset, there are reasons why Pollyanna Syndrome is toxic.


When someone calls you a Pollyanna, they are probably thinking of Pollyanna Syndrome.

What is Pollyanna Syndrome?

Pollyanna Syndrome differs slightly from the Pollyannaism, otherwise known as the Positivity Principle. As if the distinction wasn’t tricky enough, the definitions found online make the terms more confusing.

One description of Pollyanna Syndrome calls it “a genetic predisposition to be happy.” [1] This is what I would call Pollyannaism.

Searching Pollyanna Syndrome in Google returns a Wikipedia article about the Pollyanna Principle that doesn’t even mention the word syndrome. Yet many scientists use the terms interchangeably.

An Important Distinction Between Pollyannaism and Pollyanna Syndrome

Ultimately, what names we assign them isn’t as important as what we do every day. To ensure that we act in ways that will more likely lead to happiness and productivity, we must differentiate between the two names. More importantly, we need to understand the distinction between the two mindsets.

We will leave Pollyannaism as our predisposition towards the positive. It doesn’t ignore everything negative. Instead, Pollyannaism acknowledges the negative and searches for the positive in it.

Those with Pollyanna Syndrome focus on the positive while ignoring the negative. More than a bias towards positivity and away from negative, Pollyanna Syndrome completely ignores any potential negative. I’ve even seen the phrase “blindly optimistic.”

3 Reasons Why Pollyanna Syndrome is Unhealthy

While I stress the importance of optimism and positive thinking, I don’t believe we benefit from ignoring anything negative. Humans benefit more by generally practicing positivity than negativity, but completely ignoring life’s negative aspects will not make you happy, healthy, or wealthy.

We ignore the negative at our peril.

  1. We have to realize the problem before we can fix it.
  2. If we ignore the problem, it will only get worse.
  3. We only grow from overcoming adversity, not from prosperity.

We Have to Realize the Problem Before We Can Fix It

It’s vital to acknowledge the negative. Negativity is an integral part of life. We need to be aware of the negative, of life’s challenges, dangers, and injustices. Then we’ll have a better chance when confronting them.

Worse yet, if we’re not aware of the problem, what will prompt us to take action?

Ignoring the negative might encourage you to act carelessly, blow money, neglect your health, and consume only junk food while assuming everything will be alright.

What if you didn’t know you were in debt?

How would you know to make a budget and reduce your spending?

What if you didn’t know you have high blood pressure?

You wouldn’t realize that you need to make some life changes, eat more nutritiously, exercise more, and manage your stress.

Here is an important distinction.

With Pollyanna Syndrome, you ignore the stress, or you wish for a nonstressful environment. As a good Pollyanna, you recognize that your reaction to the pressure is harmful, find something to be glad about in the situation (gratitude is a great way to manage stress), and you take action to manage your stress. You can control your actions but not the circumstances.

If We Ignore the Problem, It Will Get Worse

I’ve known people in toxic relationships. They ignored their unhealthy treatment. Since they never acknowledged and confronted the issue, the treatment only worsened. They wasted more time than they needed in an abusive and unhappy situation.

I’ve known people who chose to ignore their partner’s (or kid’s) bad behavior. Since they never confronted and dealt with unwanted behavior, it worsened to the point that everyone got in trouble.

“We ignore the negative at our peril.”

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We Grow from Overcoming Adversity, Not from Prosperity

We have to acknowledge the negative. Humans don’t gain strength or resilience when life goes smoothly. Conversely, we need life’s problems. We need awareness of them and to take action to prepare for and eliminate what we can.

That’s where we build strength, wisdom, and resilience. That’s how we develop the self-confidence to act and the faith that whether or not we succeed at every small thing, most things will be okay.

“Prosperity is the result of growth, not the cause.”

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Defeat Pollyanna Syndrome by Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is an excellent defense against getting swept up in negativity. Practicing awareness of your thoughts will help you know when your thoughts are venturing too far towards negativity.

Likewise, mindfulness will help you remain aware of if your thoughts venture too far positive. Mindfulness will keep you in the practice of being aware of the situation and your response to it.

You can control your actions but not the situation.

The Case for Pollyannaism

Pollyannaism (as opposed to Pollyanna Syndrome) isn’t just happier. It’s more productive. Try out Pollyannaism to help you form a positivity bias instead of a Pollyanna syndrome.

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Have you ever been called a Pollyanna? The person who called you that probably meant it as an insult. Looking at what that word means and what she was like, we should take it is as a compliment and not judge Pollyanna so harshly.

Some would criticize those of us who focus on the positive. Our accusers will likely call themselves a realist. It is not only realistic, but Pollyannaism is also the best mindset.


In what areas do you suffer Pollyanna Syndrome?

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Sirgy, M. Joseph. The Psychology of Quality of Life. Springer Science & Business Media, 2002

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