“Don’t remove my pain, it is my chance to heal.” – Bjork
We live in a society that constantly tells us to be happy. Smile! Turn that frown upside down. Don’t worry be happy. There are thousands of lists online detailing things we should do to feel happy. Meditate. Go for a walk. Think happy thoughts. There are hundreds of books claiming to hold the secret to becoming happier, and we eat it up because we want to feel happy. We worry that something is wrong with us when we don’t.
So why aren’t we happy yet?
Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll confirm that I am an advocate for positive thinking. I believe our thoughts are incredibly important and that gratitude and a fresh perspective can improve many situations. There is a purpose for positivity and, yes, there is a time to be happy. But what if I told you there was also a purpose for sorrow and a time to be sad? Or that it’s just as important to embrace and process your anger as it is to embrace and process joy?
We are beautifully complex creatures with a wide range of perfectly acceptable emotions. Have you ever noticed how uncomfortable it feels when you are trying to force yourself to be happy? If you are feeling down it’s nearly impossible to act cheerful. This struggle arises because you are denying and suppressing the true emotion that is begging to come out. You are stuffing down saddess/anger/hurt/frustration etc and covering it in a big, rubber mask of HAPPY, and the more you stuff the further away from happy you get. Additionally, studies have shown that bottling up your emotions can quite literally make you sick, leading up to things like heart disease or cancer.
So what are we to do?
Feel what’s coming up for you. Don’t suppress it. Now, I’m not suggesting you break everything in sight or punch the nearest person in the face. We can still practice a reasonable amount of self-control while we feel our emotions. It’s never okay to physically or emotionally harm anyone else in the process.
So, instead of the typical “get happy” lists we are inundated with on a daily basis I want to share a list of my own. My list details a few important emotions we all feel, the benefits they serve and tips on how to express them in a healthy way. Keep in mind that many of these emotions overlay each other or can also go hand-in-hand.
Discouragement – This is a very common emotion that many people don’t like to feel. Think about it…if we never felt discouraged what would give us the drive to continue striving for something? Let’s say your dream was to run a marathon, but your first attempted resulted in quitting halfway through. If you felt no emotion in this situation, would you keep trying again to finish that race? That feeling…or rather wanting to avoid reoccurrences of that feeling is one of the things that helps you to push a little further next time. Feeling discouraged when you miss out on something also indicates that you really care about it and it matters to you.
How to express it: Reflect. Retrace your steps and discover what may have influenced the situation. What did you do and what could you have done differently? Journal and get all your thoughts on paper. Remember this feeling and use it when you feel like quitting again.
Sorrow/Grief – These feelings are especially painful and devastating, but where there is sorrow or grief there is love. This is a process of honoring that precious someone (or something) that you no longer have in your life. Sorrow and grief pay tribute to the love you feel.
How to express it: Cry. Write about your pain. Paint or draw what your emotions might look like. Cry. Listen to music that reflects your pain. Write a letter to the person or thing you miss. Cry.
Anger – Some people have a hard time controlling this emotion and often it’s due to unresolved trauma. Bottling up your anger is also a great way to explode at someone unintentionally. Imagine steam building in a kettle or water raging against a dam. Life is full of frustrating, awful, infuriating situations and if we all walked around with a smile painted across our face we might go crazy.
How to express it: Scream into a pillow. Put on some gloves and hit a punching bag. Exercise to angry music. Write down what you are angry about or if you can’t find the words just write every curse word you can think of.
Jealousy – This is an awful feeling. Sometimes it can stem from our own issues or insecurities and other times it can be a healthy response. Overall, green-eyed jealousy reminds why we love who we love. Sometimes (probably far too often) we take the people and things in our lives for granted. Not to worry, good ol’ jealousy can kick in and remind us…wow I don’t want to lose this person. If we find ourselves jealous of those around us we can turn that emotion into a driving force to achieve some of those things we are envious of.
How to express it: If you’re feeling jealous of how a loved one is relating to another person (or vice versa): Write down what you observe. Reflect on your relationship and try to determine what this feeling is telling you (hold on? let go?). If you are feeling jealous of another person: Make a list of what you are envious of and why. Ask yourself if perhaps you should be making changes in your own life.
Fear – This is a common emotion that most people try to avoid. Anxiety and panic feel terrible. The purpose, of course, is innately self-preservation. If a lion is charging us we don’t want to just stand there like a dope. We feel an alarming burst of fear and we run away or fight. This can also be applied to heights and other dangerous situations that fear can pull us away from. When it comes to general anxiety we can often push through and process these fears in order to dissolve them, sometimes entirely. Say you are afraid of public speaking (isn’t everyone?), as scary as it may be, the more public speaking you do the less intense the fear becomes.
How to express it: Write down the worst possible situation you could imagine and analyze it. Are the consequences you’re imagining realistic or exaggerated? Let’s say the worst case scenario did happen…then what would you do? Walk through the scenario in your mind. Stare it in the face, poke at it and let yourself slowly become bigger than this fear. Do it anyway. *I am speaking of general fear and anxiety – more intense anxiety disorders/depression etc are best worked through with a professional therapist.
Guilt – This is yet another horrible feeling that you unfortunately need in your life. Feeling guilty is awful. But imagine a world where no one felt guilty of anything. Scary right? That feeling brings you to a place of compassion, remorse and empathy. If you feel guilty you are imagining what your actions have caused or who they’ve hurt, and that’s a good thing. Guilt can also be imagined, so feel it and analyze the situation fully. Did you really do any harm or are you being too hard on yourself?
How to express it: Reflect on the situation and really think about who or what has been affected. Take a long hard look at the consequences of your actions. Ask yourself if your actions reflect who you are as a person? Allow yourself to learn from it if need be.
So you see, whoever has been telling you that you should try to be happy all the time is full of it! Emotions, both positive and negative, are important and arise to give us messages; messages about ourselves, about our relationships, about situations. They are signals addressing bigger issues that need attention. It’s our job to feel them fully and try to learn, grow or change based on what we discover.
If you find yourself having a hard time controlling, expressing or even accessing your emotions a trained therapist or counselor can be incredibly helpful. Always find a safe place to process your emotions and please be aware that bigger issues or traumas are best left to professionals.
Have some anger you’re ready to express? Come work it out with us at Honest Training. Here’s a week free on us!