For almost my entire life, I’ve been running away from my emotions. For the most part, I didn’t like how emotions felt. If a feeling wasn’t blatantly positive (like happiness or excitement), I wanted nothing to do with it. I labeled most of my feelings bad, and the experience of these emotions ranged from a being a nuisance to complete emotional wreckage.
When I got spun up about something, my internal voice often said things to me like, “You’re overreacting, you shouldn’t feel that way. Rub some dirt in it and move on.”
The truth is, feeling emotions as they arise—even the “bad” ones— is a surer way to happiness than stuffing down or denying our feelings. Here’s how to get happier in 3 steps.
1. Feel your feelings.
To our rational, logical minds, it seems like a good idea to deny our emotions (and those of our children). We fear our emotions well forth from a bottomless pit. We’re afraid if we sit down and feel our emotions without trying to push them away or deny them, we’ll open up a never-ending firehose of emotional hell.
If we’re upset over something “stupid”, it seems like it would encourage a pointless emotional outpouring if we validate our emotions, honor them, and allow ourselves to feel them without resistance.
The truth is, if we just say “Yeah, it sucks,” then feel the feelings, they are fleeting. Temporary. And frequently, not so bad.
Feel your feelings so you can let them go, solve problems, and get over whatever is bothering you. If bad feelings are dogging you endlessly, then it’s a great idea to journal out your thoughts so you can face whatever is causing painful emotions. This will help you get a head start on the next step…
2. Either accept or fix things that cause negative emotions.
Yes, feel your feelings, great. That said, negative emotions aren’t that fun. (Duh.) A lot of times, it’s tempting to ignore emotions because of the aforementioned lack of fun, however, when we pay attention to emotions and take the time to figure out why we feel that way, we can either accept or fix what’s causing them.
We always have three choices when faced with negativity:
1. Accept it.
2. Change it.
3. Make ourselves miserable.
When we make ourselves miserable, it’s often because we’re ignoring negative emotions and trying to pretend they aren’t bothering us while we eat or drink or shop or Facebook or [fill in the blank] our feelings away. OR we dwell and ruminate, playing conversations over and over in our heads, cursing people who wronged us or just generally being sour because of something that happened or what someone did to us.
Sometimes, we can’t fix the thing that’s bothering us, for example, the death of a loved one or something that happened in the past, like a loss or a betrayal. In that case, take the time to grieve and accept your loss. Acceptance involves allowing the feelings to move through us and accepting that the past cannot be any different from what it is. When we resist our feelings and resist the idea of what happened, we stay miserable. Acceptance allows us to heal and look forward to happier times.
We can often fix or change the root cause of negativity. Rather than running or ruminating, take a look at whatever is bothering you right in the face and problem solve. If you’re tempted to numb out and ignore your feelings, fight the urge. Get your thoughts out on paper to make the issue easier to see in the light of day. The act of writing it out can help solutions become clearer. At the very least, it gets circular or repetitive thinking out of your head and onto the page.
3. Do what you KNOW will make you feel better.
It’s often easier to do what we know will make us feel worse: like takeout vs. homecooking. Of course takeout feels great in the short-term, but after the euphoria of junk food wears off, we’re left with guilt and an expanding waistline.
Here are some common causes of negative emotions we can fix if we’re aware they’re contributing to our unhappiness:
- Not enough focus on what matters to you.
- Going to bed too late / not getting enough sleep.
- Too much screen time.
- Lack of self-care, e.g. and unhealthy diet or not enough exercise.
- Not prioritizing important relationships.
The bigger you’re playing in life, the more you need to prioritize self-care and important relationships, because these are apt to suffer if you don’t pay close attention. It’s easy to forget, in the hustle and bustle, that our closest relationships (and our self-care rituals!) are more important than our ambitions.
The other day, I was spinning in my kitchen, thinking about my lengthy to-do list, and wondering what to tackle next. The truth was, I was hungry, but I didn’t want to cook because I had “more important” things to do.
However, I knew if I didn’t refuel, I would have spun off to things that don’t ask much of me, things like Facebook or other time wasters; then at the end of the day, I would’ve wound up in a bad mood for having wasted my afternoon.
It reminded me that the more you have going on, the more important it is to carve out time for self-care so that you can operate smartly and efficiently. Otherwise it’s too easy to lose energy, make mistakes, and kill your motivation—and generate negative emotions that you could have fixed before they even started.
- feel your feelings
- accept or fix what’s wrong, and
- prevent bad moods before they even start by prioritizing self-care and what’s most important to you…
…you may soon find yourself on an upward spiral, flying towards sunnier days and heaps of happiness!
Disclaimer: This advice is not intended to replace that of a mental health professional. If you consistently struggle with feelings of sadness or overwhelm, please see a professional.