A positive attitude can be explained as a state of mind that enables one to look at life with hope, confidence, optimism, courage, determination, and patience.
So… are negative emotions bad?
Rather than labelling an emotion as “bad” and to be avoided at all costs, we should see it as our mind using both positive and negative thoughts and emotions to process the world around us.
The movie Inside Out illustrates how in real life, all emotions, including those that are tough, like sadness, fear, and anger, serve a purpose in guiding us to connect with others, avoid danger, or recover from loss by providing insights into our inner and outer environments.
Yale University psychology professor Laurie Santos agreed it’s possible for people to feel both positive and negative emotions at once. For instance, sadness can help us process difficult times, and we would have no moral compass if we never felt shame or guilt.
In contrast, trying to be happy all the time alienates us from our emotions, which simply isn’t healthy. In fact, recent psychological research indicates that emotional avoidance is one of the main causes of many psychological issues.
Danish psychologist Svend Brinkmann explains that the pressure to think positively and be constantly cheerful has turned happiness into “a duty and a burden.”
For these reasons, there’s no need to pressure children to avoid or dismiss negative emotions.
In the right context, negative emotions like anger, grief, sadness or jealousy are perfectly normal. Anger, frustration, fear, and other “negative emotions” are all part of the human experience. They can lead to stress and are often seen as emotions to be avoided or ignored, but they can actually be healthy to experience when managed properly. It is also why children should be encouraged to risk failure, despite the negative emotions that may ensue.
Negative emotions also provide information
More often, these feelings are beneficial because they can also send us messages. For example:
- Anger and anxiety show that something needs to change and that perhaps our well-being has been threatened.
- Fear is an appeal to increase your level of safety.
- Frustration or resentment motivates us to change something in a relationship.
Negative emotions represent a signal that something needs to change, and they motivate us to do so.
Even positive emotions have downsides
While positive emotional states such as hope, joy, and gratitude can have many benefits, they can also have negative effects.
For example, health and happiness, as well as personal success, have been linked to optimism.
In contrast, unchecked optimism can lead to unrealistic expectations and even dangerous risks that can lead to loss and all the negative feelings that come with it. A more unpleasant emotion like anxiety can, on the other hand, motivate you to make changes that can improve your chances of success and reduce danger.
In the same way that negative emotions can be beneficial, “false positivity,” where we try to deny our feelings or pretend we feel happier than we actually do, can be detrimental.
Techniques for managing negative emotions
Rather than rejecting or denying our negative states, we can embrace them and engage in activities that can counterbalance these uncomfortable emotions in an authentic way.
- Approach your thoughts and feelings with openness and curiosity. Acknowledge how you are feeling without rushing to change your emotional state or passing judgement on it. The more emotions we recognise and can name within ourselves, the more we can recognise our children’s emotions.
- Accept and befriend yourself. Self-compassion has been shown to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and dampen the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight reaction that you experience when in social and performance situations.
- Improving Your Physical Health. Do things to improve your physical health such as eating healthy food, resting when you are tired, and engaging in daily exercise such as going for a walk.
- Writing a gratitude letter. This activity involves expressing gratitude to people who have done kind things for you. This includes both minor and major acts of kindness. These expressions of gratitude bring great benefits to the recipients, but even greater ones to the person expressing the gratitude. Most people who engage in this activity report that they still feel positive feelings from it days or even weeks later.
Both positive and negative emotions, when managed well, are designed to keep us safe and motivate us to improve our lives.