New research suggests that a key to happiness may include embracing more negative emotions. Traditionally, psychologists have held that in order to increase happiness, it is important to increase positive emotions and decrease the negative. However, in the new study “The Secret to Happiness: Feeling Good or Feeling Right?,” researchers suggest that people are happier when the emotions they experience align with the emotions they desire, even if those are unpleasant, such as anger or contempt.
“People are happier if they feel what they want to feel or if they want what they feel,” says Maya Tamir, Ph.D., lead researcher on the study and psychology professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “If people want to feel unpleasant emotions, they are happier if they feel them, at least to some extent. If we feel angry, but consider these the right feelings to have—we’re probably better off than if our feelings don’t match what we want them to be.”
Embrace your dark side.
Maya explains that some negative emotions can be helpful and even beneficial when those emotions are aligned with our desires. For instance, if you are feeling angry about a great injustice, your desires are probably related to your core values. The anger you feel may spur you into action, which can provide meaning in your life as you work to correct the injustice. Embracing your anger may motivate you to pursue a fitness goal if you are out of shape or strive for a promotion at work if you are not happy with your current financial situation.
If your emotions are misaligned with your values, Maya says, that can have the opposite effect and lead to dissatisfaction. One example would be getting angry at your child for breaking a dish but then feeling guilty later for being too harsh about the mishap. By pursuing the emotions we care about most and embracing the feelings we have about those emotions, we can feel better about ourselves and have less inner conflict.
“Happiness is not only about the emotions you have, but also about the emotions you want to have,” Maya explains. “You are happier when these two match than when they mismatch, regardless of whether that means feeling more or less pleasant overall.”
Don't sweep negative emotions under the rug.
Stacy Kaiser, Live Happy editor at large and psychotherapist, strongly agrees with the findings and says that being true to who you are is an important part of emotional well-being. “Dismissing or ignoring our feelings typically leads to greater sadness and discomfort overall,” she says.
“I regularly encourage people to allow themselves to feel their feelings, good or bad, to process them and to move forward,” she says. “Taking time out to do this typically provides relief in the moment and greater happiness overall.”
Read more: Are You Trying Too Hard to Be Happy?
Chris Libby is the Section Editor for Live Happy magazine. His last feature article was Happiness Is a Walk in the Park.