‘I should be happy but I’m not’ is a common theme for so many. We tend to fantasise about ubiquitous happiness, assuming our lives should be a place of continuous pleasure. However, such an existence is not a reality. If anything, once you relieve yourself from the endless pursuit of happiness, you become free to consider how good things actually are. So why are so many of us still fixating on happiness as the only destination worth reaching. And why is it an unrealistic target?
With the increased popularity of positive psychology, negative emotions have acquired a bad reputation. Somewhere along the line the powerful fundaments of positive psychology got mixed up in a ‘positive vibes only’ assault and the message filtered down through social media and life coaching platforms was that positive thinking was the solution to any problem. However, every emotion has a function, it’s how we experience and process them that matters. Negative emotions like sadness, guilt and anger have as important a role in our lives as happiness and the ‘thinking positive’ approach can be counter-productive as it can leave people under the impression that they need to repress their authentic experience. As Brené Brown points out, you cannot selectively numb emotions. Denial of our pain, anger or shame suppresses our ability to truly embrace our humanity, express our vulnerability and meaningfully connect with others.
One of the leading arguments for positive thinking is that negative emotions are corrosive and associated with a myriad of mental, emotional and physical health problems. However, this is only the case when we repress their existence. When we honour our more negative emotions, embracing, experiencing and processing them healthily, we can decipher the message they have for us. When we acquire the awareness and acceptance necessary to sit with uncomfortable feelings, they no longer engulf us and are a cathartic element of healing our wounds. They are powerful guides and an integral part of our intuitive system.
The reality is our brain doesn’t want care if we are happy, it just wants us to survive. As an evolutionary survival tactic, we have a bias towards negative outcomes, pessimistic outlooks and all or nothing thinking. When we resided in caves, our lives depended on us assuming danger around every corner. From a practical perspective, it doesn’t make as much sense today to assume that even opening our front door is fraught with potential threats. Unfortunately, our brains didn’t get the memo. So, our tendency to feel drawn towards a more negative way of perceiving the world is not an indication of an inherent malfunction.
Nonetheless maintaining an informed, realistically cautious optimism can definitely work towards our advantage. It’s good practice to look on the bright side but make provisions for things going wrong. People are drawn towards positivity and focusing on the blessings in your life can most definitely make the day a little bit brighter. Focus on creating meaning through experiencing your emotions and the connections that emotional insight and empathy can introduce. The key is welcoming the rich tapestry of emotions life has to offer without over emphasising or identifying with any. By letting the good and bad flow naturally without restriction or denial, we can embrace the beautiful ups and downs life has to offer.
For any queries on mood or emotions, get in touch by email or get more information in my youtube video on the topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-VueuTzsJw&t=130s
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