If you say you are happy ALL THE TIME you may be living in a fantasy bubble. Strive for Happier NOT... happy all the time
As nice as this would be and yes, happy is a choice you can make, we live in a world where on the best of days people just want to buy into the negative, thriving on chaos NOT calm happy.
There is a LOT we can do to sustainably increase our happiness and decrease our negative emotions. Choosing happiness in this way can help us achieve the incredible benefits of living our lives in a more positive emotional space. But as you embark on your own path towards more happiness, I want to make clear that this is about becoming happier, NOT about being happy all the time.
If we are going to live and love in this world, we are going to feel negative emotions. They are simply a part of being human. One of the most powerful things we can do in our quest to become happier is paradoxically to give ourselves permission to be human and let those negative emotions be experienced and felt.
Bad things happen. The happiest people embrace the negative emotions that come with these real challenges and problems. Science has shown conclusively that if we suppress those negative feelings, they inevitably grow stronger and surface in other parts of our lives.
Some negativity is necessary to live a happy life
It grounds us in reality. It is natural to mourn the loss of someone dear to you, to feel guilt when you do something you know is wrong, to be angry when you see an injustice done or disappointed when something doesn’t go your way. These inescapable physical or mental discomforts can be seen as the ‘first darts’ of human existence and are examples of necessary negativity. They should be acknowledged and given space to be fully experienced.
These first darts can be unpleasant, to be sure, but we often add layer upon layer of gratuitous negativity that multiplies the amount of negative emotions we feel. These ‘second darts’ are the ones we throw ourselves and is where we can significantly reduce our own negativity. For example, on top of a disappointment that we didn’t get a promotion at work, we can add a cascade of second darts…
“I’m not good enough.”
“I knew I should have done x instead of y.”
“Why do I never get anything I want?”
“He stole that promotion from me.”
“Oh God, this is the first step to me getting fired and then we’ll have to sell the house and move in with the in-laws. Everyone will know what a failure I am.”
And on and on and on.
Next time you notice feeling bad, try to distinguish the necessary negativity (first darts from the outside world) from the gratuitous negativity of our reactions (second darts). Many people find that just adding this awareness of necessary vs. gratuitous can significantly reduce the amount of negativity they experience
There is a lot of great science on how to reduce gratuitous negativity. But if you are eager to jump in right now, check out chapter 9 of the book Positivity written by Barbara Fredrickson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology and principal investigator of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The key take home point for today:
Our goal is to become happier, not to completely eliminate negative emotions. Give yourself permission to be human. Allowing ourselves to feel necessary negative emotions gives us the ability to fully experience our positive emotions.
Lee Pryke, MSPsy, ESCP, Happiness Coach