Have you ever scrolled through social media and noticed how much content is dedicated to the topic of happiness?
More than ever, we seem to be a society obsessed with being and staying happy. As individuals, it seems we are comfortable feeling delirious joy, but tend to avoid feelings of anxiety, grief, fear, sadness, (typically coined the lower emotional states). According to a study done at the University of California, Berkeley, humans have 27 distinct emotions. So, why are we so caught up on just one of them?
I have been fascinated with our obsession with happiness, so much so, that I took an 8-week, Science of Happiness Course through the University of California, Berkeley, to better understand it. The program was informative, and it explored the concepts behind living a happy and meaningful life (two very important things!). All of the recommendations were supported by scientific research and practical exercises. However, the course left me asking one really big question. “Why are we okay with feeling happy, but not okay feeling our other emotions?”
We tend to classify our emotions as good or bad, not realizing that ALL of our emotions are there for a reason and are part of the human experience. Why only happiness? Shouldn’t we be comfortable feeling all of our feelings? Shouldn’t we be able to be with our self in all emotional states, not just in joy?
I also want to add that if you believe other emotions are less desirable, think about some of the most beautiful, relevant and passionate works of art, music, and literature...it’s likely that they have come from people experiencing emotions other than joy. Think about the life changes that you, personally, have made when feeling other emotions. So while happiness is nice, our growth tends to come from the other “less desirable” emotions.
Secondly, and maybe most importantly, we need to learn how to be with ourselves during all emotional states. This is not something that we are normally taught. In fact, this is highly dependent on how we were raised, our emotional threshold and our coping skills- all things learned. For example, some people are raised to think that having feelings like sadness or grief should not be expressed. Overtime these people disconnect or resent those feelings, suppressing them or forming an unhealthy relationship with them. In turn this leads to imbalance in their overall health. Science is even suggesting there is evidence to support that unprocessed lower emotions can negatively impact physical heath as well emotional and energetic health. This disconnect is what causes stagnation and over time, emotional and energetic blockages. When these emotions are not allowed to properly process and release, they begin to deteriorate our overall health and wellness.
However, after looking into this in more detail, I've found that it's not experiencing those lower emotions that are "negative" or causing dis-ease, but the result of what happens when we don't process them, that is detrimental. In addition, avoiding an emotion can make it feel much worse. Avoiding an emotion can turn it into the proverbial monster in the closet, becoming so big and so scary that we live in perpetual fear. If only we opened the door to realize, there is no monster after all, we would be much better off.
So the big question is, what can we do about this? How can we connect with ALL of our emotions?
First, we need to re-learn and recondition ourselves so that we are just as comfortable feeling the so called “lower emotions”, as we are with happiness. We need to learn how to be with ourselves.
Being with yourself is the practice of being present with your feelings, emotions and thoughts, while not judging them (or yourself) for having them. In other words, feel all the feels.
I agree, this can be really difficult! This takes practice and patience!! Especially if you need to improve an unhealthy relationship with an emotions that has already formed (this is especially true for anxiety and fear). This can and will be really uncomfortable at first. But, the more you lean into the process, the more you will feel a shift. Little by little it will get easier and you will find emotions that once felt overwhelming or shameful are now easier to engage with! And the most surprising thing about this is, over time doing this will also increase your overall happiness.
So in not directly seeking happiness, we find more of it!
Now you might be asking, “This makes sense, how do I begin?”
The good news is, this process is very easy to start and one of the main components you learn as you develop a meditation and/or mindfulness practice!
Check out these posts on starting a meditation practice: