I’ve been interested in positive psychology (yes, that’s an actual field of study) for a long time now. It’s the study of happiness and how people get happier and how moods affect us and our lives and relationships with others. I’ve also been seeing the memes on social media about how to think positively more often and making better choices about living with gratitude and positive thinking. In fact, I’m one to send those out to others at times. All of these things are good, and there is some truth to them, but I think it’s time for a little balance.
I’ve heard it expressed that if you aren’t feeling positive or happy, you can just think good thoughts and turn it around and everything will be better. That’s true sometimes – when you woke up on the wrong side of the bed, when you’re tired and grouchy, when you’re feeling negative towards another person or a situation. But other times, simply making yourself happy is inauthentic and may mask what you’re really feeling or need to be feeling. Grief, anger, anxiety, and sadness are important emotions, and we tend to think of them as negative emotions, but they have their purposes.
In reality, there’s no such thing as a “bad” emotion – or a “good” one. Emotions are indicators of what is happening around us or within us at any moment, and provide us with information about how to make sense of the world and how to react to a given situation. Happiness is one of these, joy and contentment are others. Even excitement is often on the positive side of the scale. What I’ve noticed recently with my friends and my clients, and sometimes even myself, is the idea that something must be wrong if we aren’t feeling happy most of the time. I’m beginning to doubt that.
If emotions really were on a scale of positive and negative, it would stand that there would be a midpoint that is neither happy nor sad. I call this the neutral point or the point of reference for all other emotions. And, quite possibly, this neutral state of emotion is our actual fallback emotion when particularly good or particularly bad things aren’t happening to us and making us have other emotions. This would be the place where we are simply feeling comfortable or all right. And furthermore, I imagine this is the state we are in a good amount of the time when we aren’t overly stressed or something interesting that is causing a different emotion isn’t immediately happening. I’d like to bring back the idea the feeling ok is ok. And, in fact, it’s probably normal.
By all means, feel happy when good things are happening. Do your best to cheer yourself up when you’re feeling down if that’s the right thing to do. Grieve and rage and suffer if there’s cause for that. And know that when you’re resting in that in-between state that doesn’t feel like much of anything, you might just be fine – and that’s normal.