“The word ‘happiness’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.” -Carl Jung
I’ve got a bone to pick with positivity and its pal happiness.
You heard me. I’m pissed at positivity and happiness.
I suppose it’s not their fault, so I should be fair. I think they’re both uber important. I want to hang out with them as much as possible (there’s a reason they’re the queens of the emotional cool club), but they’re unintentionally creating shame around the not-so-cool, so-called negative emotions.
I’ve got some pretty dark emotions.
Mind you, I am a very happy person, but I’m not always happy. I have stress and anxiety, get in fights with my boyfriend, and make an ugly cry face more than I’d like to admit.
When I was younger (read: middle school and high school), I suffered from clinical depression*. I’ve been told the doctors said they’ve never seen such an extreme case.
I’m not sure they knew what to do with me.
Outwardly, my life was a reflection of everything wonderful and idyllic. Behind closed doors, I was an internal mess and hated myself to a threatening degree.
I share this not to start a pity party for myself; I share this because I know I have readers who are struggling, whose lives may not feel like they're coming up puppy dogs and roses.
I share this because I know there are people who are crying themselves to sleep at night.
I know there are those of you who are anxious on the inside, while bravely plastering a grin-and-bear-it smile for the outside world. And, I share this, because I know seeing a social media feed of perfect, happy lives complete with a pet unicorn can create shame around any feeling that is less than positive.
I want to stop the shaming and negativity bashing. Sometimes we can’t positive our way through everything, and often times we shouldn’t.
Yes, I fully subscribe to the science behind positivity, happiness, and the myriad ways in which it benefits our lives. I want to maximize happiness, my own and others. But, that doesn’t mean our other emotions aren’t valid and don’t serve a purpose. It doesn’t mean they should be ignored. In fact, I think they are essential to our overall happiness.
Our emotions act as a compass.
When we feel good and are generally happy, we know our compass is pointed in the right direction. When, however, we feel these so-called negative emotions of anger, sadness, and frustration, our compass is telling us we’re off course and something's not right.
Furthermore, our emotions need to be processed. When we suppress our emotions, we set ourselves up for other problems.
That stomachache you have? The cold you can’t seem to kick? The unassuming stranger you honked at for driving too slowly? Even those pounds you can’t seem to drop...there is a good chance all of the above are linked to suppressed, unprocessed emotions. Suppressing our emotions is even linked to the development of heart disease and cancer. (Click here to read more.)
“In recent years I have noticed an increase in the number of people who also feel guilty or ashamed about what they perceive to be negativity. Such reactions undoubtedly stem from our culture's overriding bias toward positive thinking. Although positive emotions are worth cultivating, problems arise when people start believing they must be upbeat all the time. In fact, anger and sadness are an important part of life, and new research shows that experiencing and accepting such emotions are vital to our mental health," says Tori Rodriguez, an Atlanta-based Psychotherapist in this article for Scientific America.
If that weren’t enough, our relationships suffer when we suppress our emotions. Communication breaks down, often leading to resentment.
When we allow ourselves to process our emotions, they often pass much faster. We are able to sift through what we need to notice and possibly change, setting us up to take action and create a shift. This takes us out of victimhood and, you guessed it, leads us to feeling happier.
I'm relieved to share that even crying has its benefits, like removing the chemicals that raise cortisol (the stress hormone).
I’d love to remove the labels from our emotions and instead look at them for what they are. Embrace them, feel them, and process them. The faster we stop judging ourselves for feeling, the faster we can listen to what we need and learn from our emotions.
What if you shifted your attitude about your “negative” emotions? What if you could funnel them into positive, proactive energy and action instead of apathy? What if your “negative” emotions were the key to your happiness?
*Clinical depression is not the same as unhappiness or depression caused by loss. If you think you may be suffering from clinical depression, please seek the help of a specialist, such as a psychiatrist. I use this example to demonstrate the range of emotions, in this case, sadness, that I have felt. I do not think clinical depression is something you can simply process.