Sometimes I feel sad. Sometimes I feel happy. Sometimes I’m not really able to put a label on how I feel. I’m sure you go through these emotions, and a plethora of others, just as I do. But is it good to be happy? Is it bad to be angry, or sad? From a very young age we’re taught to pick ourselves up after a fall. To just get on with things, even though it might be hard to do so. But if we’re happy, we’re encouraged to celebrate it or perpetuate it. We’re conditioned to think that some emotions are good ones to experience, while others are inherently bad. While I certainly hope that you’re happy, it might not be such a bad thing to be sad.
I have experienced some extremes of emotion in recent months. From the worry about unwell family members, to the euphoria of leaving a job I wasn’t enjoying, to the excitement about new opportunities and the sadness of missing a close friend. I have watched those close to me experience heightened emotion too. Uncertainty around health. Fear, sadness and anger around rejection. Devastation around the loss of a loved one. Excitement about travel. Determination for success. Elation following success. But are some of these emotions to be avoided, blocked out of our lives, to be supplanted by other, seemingly positive emotional states?
I’m not so sure that this is the right mindset when thinking about how we feel. I’ve written before about that underlying emotional equilibrium that we all have, known as the hedonic adaptation. So we basically have a middle point that we all just get back to eventually, in spite of different experiences in our lives at either end of the assumed scale of emotion. From this perspective, barring a particularly life-changing event, it doesn’t matter too much what we experience, we will simply experience it and return to our default state.
I think there is far more to it than this, though. There is a greater good to be gained in accepting all emotions, and even going that step further and valuing them. I look at it this way: if I’m going to feel an emotion anyway, I’ll probably be better off just submitting to it. That way I can avoid the additional potential stress of trying to avoid it. Not all that long ago I might have sought to mask emotions with a little too much wine, but the thing is, they come out anyway in the end. Better to approach the matter with a clear head and open mind, than under the influence of alcohol or whatever your poison of choice might be. So now I try to accept happiness and enjoy it. Actually sit back and appreciate the feeling for what it is. Bring it into my everyday life. Most of the time I’m pretty much there – it’s almost my default position. But I also accept sadness when it comes. These so-called negative emotions are just as important in our cognitive make-up as human beings. Simply put, they are a chemical response to external stimuli.
Accepting negative emotions, just as we do positive ones is a relatively simple thing. It’s valuing them that takes some mental acrobatics. Given that we’re programmed to identify some feelings as good and others as bad, it’s not all that surprising that we might try to deny those seen as negative. But when we do this, we aren’t just denying out feelings, we’re denying our inner truth. The truth that is our life. If you look closely… a bout of sadness, a fit of anger, a cycle of resignation… they’re all there to teach us something. You have to ask yourself just what that is. But you must first accept the emotion, name it and sit with it. Let it wash over you. Feeling the whole feeling. Meditate on it. Stop trying to fix it.
Many readers will know that I’ve been through my share of heartbreak over the years, or at least what was perceived as heartbreak at the time. If only I’d had the insight to try to really understand what was behind the feelings of loss and unworthiness I experienced, I might have been able to bounce back more quickly and perhaps not make as many mistakes in the ensuing period. I think I was in such a rush to get where I was going, that I didn’t take the time to experience what was in front of me, and as a result, learn from it. Instead of blaming others or blaming circumstances or timing, I could have just taken a moment to accept my emotions. And I have no doubt that they would have become extremely valuable to me.
If something bad happens, feel sad. Allow yourself to be enveloped by the sadness. It’s not wrong. In fact it’s wrong to deny it. Don’t let anybody tell you to pick yourself up and get on with it. Feel it. But take hold of it. Know what you’re dealing with and what it’s trying to teach you. Emotions, all emotions, are valuable. And without the so-called bad ones, what do the good ones even mean?