With all of the content out there aimed at helping us feel happier, it’s easy to believe that constant happiness should be our goal.
But is that realistic? And more importantly, is it even good for us?
The Result of Avoiding Negative Emotions
We tend to avoid negative emotions for two main reasons: 1) We’re conditioned to see them as undesirable or threatening, and 2) we don’t know how to react to them.
Regardless of the reason, distracting ourselves from experiencing negative emotions is only a temporary solution that can lead to symptoms of depression and relationship conflict. And before long, the negative emotions will return and likely with greater intensity.
The Benefit of Identifying Emotions
Acknowledging negative emotions is essential for well-being, and deluding ourselves into believing that we should be happy all the time leads to a decrease in overall happiness.
I’ve had plenty of days where I feel annoyed, frustrated, or blue for seemingly no reason. When this happens and I share how I feel with a friend, the responses I often get are, “Things will work out.” “Look on the bright side.” “You have so much going for you.” “At least you’re better off than…”
Though good-intentioned, comments like these invalidate how I feel. They tell me that it’s not okay to be frustrated or down. They tell me that I should push my negative emotions away or pretend that they don’t exist.
This doesn’t really work, though. At least not for me. Another bad day comes, another disappointment happens. I’ve learned that feeling a range of emotions, both positive and negative, is part of the human experience and deserves to be acknowledged for their roles in benefiting my overall well-being.
Emotions as Data
Consider emotions as postmarks along the road of life, providing data to help make better decisions. Negative emotions inform us that something might be wrong, and we may need to take action to change the situation.
For example, we need fear to know that we shouldn’t touch a hot stove. Worrying about a pain in your side signals that you need to go to the doctor. Feeling frustrated with your partner may let you know that there’s an unresolved issue.
When we ignore our negative emotions, we are turning away from our mind’s signal to figure out solutions to our problems or protect us from harm.
But just because we feel an emotion doesn’t mean we need to act on it.
A feeling is just a feeling.
Sometimes the feeling may lead us in the right direction, and other times it might lead us astray.
For example, feeling angry is not a call to violence, though that may be our impulse. Instead, we might glean from our anger that comments on a particular issue set us off.
Accepting Negative Emotions
Distressing situations can feel like they last forever. In reality, they pass in time.
I’ve become more comfortable with negative emotions by labeling what I feel. When I understand what I’m feeling, then I can more easily identify what steps I need to take to cope. It may be deep breathing or mindfulness. Or it might be venting to a friend or resolving a conflict.
The more I’ve paid attention to my emotions and developed a larger emotional vocabulary, the less power negative emotions have had over me. When emotions become less powerful and overwhelming, the more easily I’m able view them as cues for action.
When we take the power out of an emotion, we’re less inclined to run from it.
Awareness of my emotions has dramatically improved my relationships. The more in tune I am with Logan’s and my friends’ emotional states, the more I’m able to validate and empathize with their experiences. These behaviors deepen my connections.
At first, accepting negative emotions is unpleasant and difficult. However, I’ve realized that I’m going to experience negative emotions regardless of whether or not I accept them. Accepting their presence is like letting air out of a balloon; their power over me literally deflates.
What do you do when you experience negative emotions? Leave a comment below!