How feeling upset will ultimately make you calmer and happier
Feeling upset and angry recently, I chatted with a friend to help me feel better. But the conversation left me feeling even angrier. Was my friend’s opinion so different to mine we got into a heated debate?
No. I was merely telling her I felt upset, and her response? ‘Oh well, never mind’. Before changing the subject. Now I know people get uncomfortable when talking about emotions or dealing with emotional situations, but this response? It left me feeling even more annoyed, and on top of it, defensive, like I had to justify why I felt upset.
We all want to be happy but we can’t be happy all the time; it isn’t possible. Being human means we experience a range of emotions whether we like it or not.
Yet, we’ve all got a friend who tries to see the positive in everything, who wonders the need to feel glum when there’s so much good in our lives to appreciate. Yes, we should be more grateful, but guess what? That positive friend isn’t happy 100% of the time either. Life isn’t one big pyjama party with roasted marshmallows and popcorn.
It wasn’t until I’d watched a kids’ cartoon and re-read a chapter from a mindfulness book I connected the dots and had an ‘a-ha’ moment.
Turn towards your feelings when they’re overwhelming
When you’re being mindful, you understand that you shouldn’t avoid negative feelings. Mindfulness asks you to turn towards feelings when they feel overwhelming. Be compassionate towards the feelings to reduce their power.
Mindfulness does not say ‘don’t worry’ or ‘don’t be sad’. Instead it acknowledges your fear and your sadness…and encourages you to ‘turn towards’ these feelings and whatever emotions are threatening to engulf you Mark Williams and Danny Penman – Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world
You can’t always be happy so embrace the feelings you do have
This concept is shown beautifully in the animated film, Inside Out. Protagonist, Riley, has an imaginary friend called Bing-Bong. He’s feeling upset as his musical cart has gone. The ever-optimistic character, Joy, tries to cheer Bing-Bong up. She makes funny faces, tickles him and tells jokes, but it doesn’t work. He still feels sad, which perplexes her.
Joy is taken by surprise when the other main character – Sadness takes a different approach. Sadness acknowledges Bing-Bong is feeling upset and shows sympathy ‘it must make you feel really sad that your cart has gone’ He agrees and talks about how wonderful it was when he and Riley used to play together and how he misses it. Sadness’s compassion towards Bing-Bong’s feelings means he doesn’t avoid feeling upset. He acknowledges he feels sad. This reduces the emotion’s power and he’s able to move on from it.
Joy struggles to understand this approach. Her tactic is to avoid being sad by trying to cheer everyone up. Joy has her own ‘a-ha’ moment later in the film. When replaying a core memory of a time Riley felt joyful after a hockey game. She realises that before Riley feels happy, she felt sad because she’d missed scoring for the hockey team. Her parents sit with her saying nothing, just hugging her.
They let her feel sad. Doing so helped Riley to move beyond the sadness, and by the time her hockey team arrives to cheer her up, she’s already feeling better in herself.
It helps to actively approach all your feelings
We all feel sad, de-motivated and unhappy with ourselves at times. Some of us more than others. It seems perverse that we should actively approach these feelings when our brains tell us to avoid them.
Take note from a kids’ animation. Next time a strong negative emotion arises, don’t let your inner joy make you run for the hills. Take a peek and approach it. Give yourself a mental hug, show yourself some empathy and tell yourself it’s OK to have that emotion. This takes the power from it so you’re doing yourself a favour.
Have you tried acknowledging your emotions when feeling upset? Do you find it works or it’s a difficult concept to grasp? Let us know below!