Feelings (and thoughts, for that matter) are a natural human experience. For a while there, with pop culture movements like positive psychology, some people came to a conclusion that they should be feeling happy all the time. And if, for whatever reason, they weren’t feeling happy, then there was something wrong with them.
I wholeheartedly disagree with that idea.
Good and bad feelings
One of the reasons this came about was the categorization of emotions into ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ emotions. If I name four random emotions, lets say, anger, grief, shame and joy, can you pick out which one of those is the ‘positive’ one? I’m sure you can. But how about if a family member of yours just died? Would joy really be an appropriate emotion, or would grief fit the bill better? I’m going to go with grief.
When we move away from ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or ‘negative’ and ‘positive’, and start to re-sort our emotions in different categories like ‘pleasant’ and ‘unpleasant’, ‘comfortable’ and ‘uncomfortable’ our previously perceived ‘negative’ emotions suddenly take on a different light. Now we can appreciate them for their relevance, and start to think about the meaning they might add to our lives.
A life with only happiness and joy would be: mania
Even though we’re conditioned to thinking that if we’re not feeling tip-top then there’s something wrong with us, it’s interesting to know that people who actually experience on-going, high levels of energy and pleasant emotions may be classed as experiencing a manic episode. It’s a normal and necessary part of life to experience times of less energy, of sadness, anger and other, less pleasant, emotions.
Try noticing your inner landscape
The human experience involves experiencing a whole range of emotions, from sadness, anger and frustration, to joy, love and excitement. You can’t be one without the other. Learning how to be aware of our current feelings and notice them for what they are without needing to judge them as good or bad is a huge step forward. You can practice this by:
- Naming them (oh, I’m feeling frustrated) – this is often easier with a list or a set of flashcards in front of you
- Noticing how your body feels – instead of focusing on the thoughts surrounding the feelings, noticing what physical sensations you can pick up.
- Taking a time out when you’re having an argument or disagreement, and spending a few minutes tuning in to what’s going on internally.
Instead of trying to spend my life being happy, I’m now much more interested in being fulfilled. Fulfillment comes with a range of different emotions, and I’m trying to practice accepting these varied feelings as much as possible, even when it’s uncomfortable.