But not really. Over the past month I’ve struggled to find happiness. Circumstances in life lead to feelings of despair, and those feelings can be hard to shake. (Even though research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky states that only 10% of your happiness is based off circumstances, while 40% is based off your perspective, and the other 50% of one’s happiness comes from genetics.) The brain is a powerful muscle and one that requires mental manipulation to increase one’s happiness. Creating a gratitude journal and giving back to others helps the brain focus on the positive, but even those feelings can be short lived. With all of the roles we play in a day, whether it’s a teacher, coach, parent, sibling, or friend, we may feel a burden to be positive all the time. As I am recognizing this year, that can be a dangerous and unhealthy state of mind- especially when feelings of happiness are forced. Because of that, I wanted to focus on the role of emotions- both positive and negative- and their impact on our mental health.
As we all know, life has the ability to make you feel on top of the world one day, and then just as quickly drop you to the depths of the sea. These highs and lows are reflective of situations and circumstances that are thrown our way. Psychologist Jonathan M. Adler of the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering emphasizes the importance of recognizing our experiences and emotions for what they are so we can make sense of our world. “Unpleasant feelings are just as crucial as the enjoyable ones in helping you make sense of life's ups and downs. Remember, one of the primary reasons we have emotions in the first place is to help us evaluate our experiences.”
To take it one step further, Adler wanted to find out the psychological well being of individuals who recognized their unpleasant thoughts, but did so while remaining optimistic. This is what he found: “Taking the good and the bad together may detoxify the bad experiences, allowing you to make meaning out of them in a way that supports psychological well-being.” I found this study to be crucial because it allows us to recognize feelings of despair or sadness, while also acknowledging the positive in life and being hopeful for the future.
The research states that it’s best to accept how you feel. Be real with yourself. If you’re sad, be sad. If you’re happy, be happy. “If we numb sadness, we also numb joy. We need to openly experience all of our emotions, and that includes sadness, as painful as it may be sometimes.” (From Dr. Travis Langley’s analysis on the role of emotions in the Oscar award winning movie Inside Out.) So I’m not going to force the positivity. The light will be bright soon, but to recognize when it’s dark is not only healthy, but necessary.