Why Forcing Happiness Might Be Counterproductive
While advice such as ‘just be happy’ is well-intentioned, there is an ironic consequence of always trying to stay positive. A recent study observing people with depressive symptoms concluded that the more pressure the participants received from their environment not to experience negative emotions, the higher the probability that they would experience an increase in depressive symptoms. Essentially, we can actually feel worse the more we suppress or downplay negative feelings. On top of feeling sad and anxious, we also feel shame over not being happy, which exacerbates the negative experience. In her book titled “Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them”, Tina Gilbertson offers a counter-intuitive approach: that, if we want to have a chance at happiness, we need to be comfortable with the discomfort of negative emotions. After all, the more you practice your ability to emotionally regulate, the better friend, lover, parent, sibling and mentor you can be for the people around you.
Thus, the plan of action when it comes to these emotions is one of facing them head on, rather than avoiding them.
How can you work with your negative emotions without fearing them?
Take note of and label the emotions as you experience them, identifying the situations they arose in and what triggered you to feel that way. Always remember that, at the end of the day, negative emotions are part and parcel of the human experience shared by all.
Don’t act on your feelings – at least, not right away. Exasperation and despair in themselves cannot hurt you, but turning to vices, can. Allow yourself to feel the full extent of your emotions, process them through reflection, then practice daily self-compassion. You’ll often find that once you give yourself time and space away from a situation, you are able to think clearer and thus, more able to make better decisions.
See happiness as a step in the process of self-care, and not merely the only way you’re supposed to feel. Creating an expectation wherein you are constantly chasing happiness when you are feeling down will only make you feel worse, because the expectation emphasises the disparity between how you feel and how you want to feel.
With the exception of situations where there is a medical condition, remember that emotions provide valuable information about what we’re experiencing. In return, we should show gratitude to our emotions by always giving them the attention they deserve.
Gilbertson LPC, T., 2021. Why Trying to Be Happy Is So Depressing. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: <https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/constructive-wallowing/201707/why-trying-be-happy-is-so-depressing>
Gilbertson LPC, T., 2021. Constructive Wallowing | In Denver call 303.875.5020. [online] Tina Gilbertson, LPC. Available at: <https://tinagilbertson.com/constructive-wallowing/>