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How to Observe Your Emotions for Ultimate Happiness
Life in general and dealing with your emotions can be hard. It can feel overwhelming at times and leave you feeling physically awful. Emotions and feelings have an intense physical element to them. Whether you’re sweating with nervousness, or feeling your stomach knot from sadness. If left unmanaged, your emotions can also get the best of you. Potentially leading to behaviours that you wish you could have done differently in hindsight. But, the goal shouldn’t be to numb down your feelings so that they never get in the way. But, to be at a point where you can experience them, find them useful and still act in your most intentional way.
The importance of radical acceptance
The concept itself is not new, but there is a growing trend, especially in Western society, of ‘toxic positivity’. That is positivity to the extent that it becomes counterproductive and harmful. It suggests striving for happiness at all times, and being overly optimistic regardless of the situation. Now, there is a time and place for choosing to be positive and optimistic. But there is a greater need to acknowledge the scenario you are in, regardless of how serious it may be.
There may be a time in life where you are thrown a scenario that is undeniably shit. And there might not be anything you can do to change it. This this is why radical acceptance is key. Hearing the words ‘look on the bright side’ might tip you over the edge. This kind of thinking can make you feel invalidated. Accepting your reality, your situation, and the emotions you feel is crucial. Despite what toxic positivity may suggest.
If we avoid acknowledging and validating the situation, and our subsequent emotions, it can lead to us feeling guilty for feeling emotions in the first place. Sending us into a shame spiral that doesn’t lead to the most useful or intentional behaviour.
Finding your own peace
This toxic positivity culture is particularly prevalent as it is useful for modern businesses since it puts our outcomes into our own hands. If we can change our lives by being more positive, then the blame for our failures isn’t on the systems and societies we live in, but on ourselves. The ‘happiness industry’ is a booming business and corporations make huge profits from happiness and positivity boosting books, courses and products.
Unfortunately, this type of ideology can lead to victim blaming, blind optimism and an avoidance of reality. Things that don’t sound like the recipe for true happiness to me! This pursuit of happiness is something that we cannot actually achieve. Countries that spend more on happiness are statistically less likely to be happy. We need to find happiness in our own lives where we are currently. Rather than as a destination to be achieved when we have reached the next milestone. One of the key elements to achieving happiness in your life is radical acceptance of your current situation.
Afterall, our inclination towards negativity, and perhaps why we notice or feel negative emotions more strongly than positive ones, has its basis in evolution. We used to need to stay vigilant and be on high alert for danger at all times. So, we would need to be anxious and fearful in order to maintain awareness for potential threats.
With this in mind, it is no wonder we find it easier sometimes to be negative and why forcing ourselves to be positive isn’t necessarily the best option. There are benefits of course to choosing to be positive, but there needs to be a balance between optimism and acceptance of reality. Even when it is difficult to do so.
Be curious with your emotions
We have now understood that it is normal, acceptable and expected to feel negative emotions. It is also necessary to radically accept our reality. We can now look at our relationship and how we conceptualise our own emotions. The first step to this, after acceptance, is to truly experience your emotions. We need to take on the role of an observer.
As intense as our thoughts and feelings may be, we aren’t them, but an observer or experiencer of them. They may pass into our minds, they may even temporarily take over our bodies, but our thoughts are just thoughts. Our emotions are just physical sensations in our bodies. We can use the principles from mindfulness and meditation to help us. These techniques allow us to detach from the experience so that it does not overwhelm us.
This is especially helpful when experiencing troubling or uncomfortable emotions. When we understand our thoughts as just thoughts, and our emotions as just a temporary physical experience, it makes things easier. Especially during difficult situations. It makes intense emotions much easier to deal with, and easier to become grounded again. It also helps us to feel grateful when our thoughts and feelings are pleasurable or fun. It’s all temporary, so enjoy it while you can!
Ask yourself questions without judgement
When you feel something, consider what exactly is that feeling? It can be helpful to label emotions, but you don’t have to. Emotions and feelings manifest in the body in different ways. Identify where you feel the emotion and what that feeling is. Maybe you experience guilt concentrated in your head, or sadness in your stomach. Learn to detach from the meaning, and focus on the sensations. This should help you cope when you are struggling with emotions of higher intensity.
You can question and be inquisitive with your emotions too. Consider why you feel that way. Is it truly about the situation you are in currently, or is there a deeper meaning? What is your history and relationship with the emotion you are currently experiencing? Do you like feeling this way? What can you learn from your emotions and feelings? Have they been caused by familiar stimuli, and what does this indicate about you as a person, your values and ideals?
When you can learn to be accepting and inquisitive in relation to your emotions, you can help to develop a healthier and kinder relationship to yourself. Therefore, allowing you to make better and more intentional choices, decisions and behaviours.
Finally, consider if there is a way you can learn to feel gratitude towards your emotions. They are all temporary, the positive and the less so. It is beautiful in a way to experience emotions. Even difficult ones like pain, sadness and anxiousness. They are all part of what makes you human. If you can find a way to be gentle with yourself when you are going through difficult times in your life you’re doing well. It will help you appreciate the good times when they are present and help you recover more easily when things aren’t as good.
Toxic Positivity – Whitney Goodman
Smile or Die – Barbara Ehrenreich
Positivity – Barbara L. Fredrickson