Feeling negative emotions is good for your health
Happy people live longer.
We’ve all heard this nerve-wracking prophecy before. It’s one of pop psychology’s favorite “new research shows.”
Funny enough, I know few people who would self-diagnose as “happy.” To call oneself “happy” sounds – dare I say – braggy? Delusional? Or, for some, a sign of vapidity – how can one be happy with all the suffering in the world! As a society, we seem to be obsessed with this singular goal of happiness, yet, I find few people who are genuinely situated there, beckoning us to come follow.
Has life’s complexity caused us to out-grow “happy?”
Well good thing for us, a new study published in the journal, Emotion, found the aptitude to feel a broad range of emotions — called, “emotional diversity,” or “emodiversity” — to be a stronger predictor of health as well as a substantial link to longevity.
While we’ve grown accustomed to staggering studies and doom-and-gloom forecasts of climate change, political unrest, and global pandemics – this study is remarkably accepting of our humanness and the diverse emotional ecosystem that separates us from other animals.
The deceptive simplicity of the idea of “happy people,” dismisses the role certain negative emotions play into our character development. Not only does feeling low make the good moments sweeter in contrast, it also teaches us lessons in impermanence – that if happy moments don’t last forever, low moments won’t either.
Perhaps the fallacy lies in our culture’s worship of “positivity.” Like smiles in a photograph taken after a fight, positivity can become just as much a mask as it is a state-of-mind. “Body positivity,” for example, aims to counteract the harmful pressures of the objectification of the female body and the emphasis on certain physical traits over others. While the problem remains stagnant – the obsession and stress placed on women’s bodies in the first place! Big, small, hairy, tall – no one’s body should be the forefront of their identity. And neither should a single emotion.
Without the stress surrounding and contextualizing negative emotions, it’s easier to see the benefit they have to our lives. For instance, when we set aside our society’s reaction to the state of being depressed, (because, let’s face it, capitalism has no place for an unproductive work horse!), and we take that feeling at face value – we might notice something different. We might see the invaluable lessons from periods of solitude, introspection, and self-work.
Like a snake shedding its flaky skin, we sometimes come out of the darkness lighter, more directed, and balanced than we had entered. Therefore, the ability to feel what we are supposed to be feeling, rather than diminishing, avoiding, and repressing – is necessary to grow as a person.
Just like a good cry can release tensions and restore your emotional equilibrium (crying is proven to release oxytocin and endorphins into the brain), there is a time and a place for “negative” emotives. Emotional reactions are one of our brain’s main communication channels with our bodies. To not listen to them is to miss a transmission from yourself.
It seems that finding the balance between indulgence and observation is key. To allow ourselves to experience the full range of emotional experiences might allow us to enjoy the benefits of positive emotions without the stress around our negative ones.
Acceptance is the forefront of this study: body acceptance, emotional acceptance, acceptance of who we are and the emotions we feel might be our best bet for a more peaceful mentality and healthier body.