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The ‘Up’ Side of Feeling Down

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In today’s culture, everyone loves to be happy. Just look at posts on Facebook and other social media of people smiling and having a wonderful time. Bookstores are full of self-help books and you can’t go online without finding an article on “how to be happier.” We’re inundated with the craze to be happy – always, no matter what. So, what is wrong with this? Isn’t happiness what we want, afterall? You may be surprised to learn that the answer might be not. In fact, the relentless pursuit of happiness may be doing us more harm than good.

What’s wrong with feeling good?

There isn’t anything inherently wrong with feeling good. In fact, feeling good is a worthwhile goal and should be pursued. However, the pursuit of happiness can become a problem when it leads us to deny emotions that are essential and necessary for being a whole person – such as sadness, grief, anger, and fear.

The following are feeling good “traps” to AVOID:

  • I can be happy all of the time. It is unrealistic to think that we can be happy all of the time. Those who do are setting themselves up for grave disappointment. Focusing too much on what we think we should be feeling and ruminating on what we think we are doing wrong inadvertently pushes us further away from the ultimate goal of being happy
  • I can push away negative emotions. When facing difficult life transitions, loss, and stressful events, some people may choose to suppress their emotions. Although there may be some initial benefits to suppressing or avoiding negative emotions, there are serious drawbacks later on down the road. There is a growing body of research that demonstrates that failing to acknowledge difficult events and process the emotions associated with them can lead to poor health, strained interpersonal relationships, and in some cases, depression

The ‘good’ part of feeling bad?

Difficult emotions such as sadness, grief, anger, and fear are essential to human existence and are natural, even healthy experiences. Negative emotions can sometimes help us by cluing us into things that we might not otherwise be aware of, give us energy to change something that is not right, and stand up for ourselves when necessary. For example, fear can alert us to possible danger and signal us if we need to take action to protect ourselves from someone who is crossing a boundary, infringing on our freedoms, or violating our trust. Anger can help us focus our awareness and zero in on a problem so that we can deal with it head on. Grief and sadness are natural responses to loss and a necessary part of the healing process. In short, negative emotions can open us up to new possibilities, help us learn more about ourselves, and lead us to do better.

Taking the good with the bad

Of course, there is nothing wrong with trying to feel happy. However, consider that being happy doesn’t mean feeling elated all the time. Rather, focus on achieving balance with work and home life, on relationships that fill you up, and on meaningful activities. “Taking the good with the bad” means finding a way to experience negative feelings alongside positive feelings. Once an individual is able to feel good when feeling bad, they will be able to confront negative events, find something positive in life’s stressors, and gain valuable insight.

Below is a list of suggestions to help you take the ‘good’ with the ‘bad’:

  • Do something meaningful. Some researchers say happiness as people usually think of it – the experience of pleasure or positive feelings – is far less important than engaging in meaningful activity
  • Focus on long term fulfillment. Raising children, maintaining healthy relationships, and accomplishing goals are not always fun – and you won’t always be happy. Remind yourself that the difficult emotions are part of the process that will ultimately lead to a deeper sense of happiness in the long run
  • Be gentle with yourself. Resist the urge to beat yourself up for feeling a certain way. Rather, remind yourself that what you are feeling is natural – and maybe even necessary
  • Focus on the growth. Ask yourself, what can I learn from this negative emotion? In other words, what is this feeling telling me?
  • Just breathe. Know that difficult emotions – like all emotions, are temporary. You won’t feel this way forever. Take a breath, focus on the moment and say something encouraging to yourself
  • Reflect on how far you have come. Remind yourself of times in the past where you have overcome a difficult life event, and where you are today. Chances are you experienced negative emotion and ultimately got to a place where you feel more fulfilled and happy

When help is needed

There may be times in your life when facing a difficult life transition can feel overwhelming and hopeless. When the strategy of “taking the good with the bad” is becoming increasingly more difficult, and you feel depressed, anxious, exhausted, or stressed out, consider seeking additional support. Professional therapy at Therapy Changes is available to help guide you through difficult emotions to help you understand more about yourself, make changes in your thinking and behaviors, and ultimately feel more like you again.

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