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Not that there's anything wrong with that . . .

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In my last few posts (which you can see here and here), I’ve talked about the power of positivity and how generating three times as many positive feelings as negative helps to create more satisfaction and resilience in your life.

One of my concerns as I’ve shared this information with you is the possible message that negative emotions are “bad.” They’re not. Or, as Jerry Seinfeld might say about experiencing negative emotions: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Negative emotions are okay and we need them

As mentioned in my earlier posts, negative emotions have an important role in our lives. They cue us that something is wrong and, in extreme situations, prepare our bodies to react to danger. Imagine hiking along a scenic forest trail, lost in your pleasant thoughts and feelings. Suddenly, you notice a mama bear and her cub in the path ahead of you. If you weren’t able to access your negative emotion of fear, you might smile and continue ambling toward them, perhaps to get a better look. However, with your natural instinct of fear in place, your attention narrows and identifies this situation as possibly dangerous and preps your body to get out of this mama’s way.

More realistically, let’s say you look at a bill that reads “You are in danger of foreclosure if you are not able to pay what is due on your mortgage.” Because of your perpetual happiness, you are not triggered into immediate action causing you to teeter perilously toward losing your house.

Or perhaps you don’t notice that an important relationship is in trouble because you aren’t in tune with your own anxiety or your partner’s anger. So fear, anger, worry, and other “negative” emotions really do have a very important function in our lives.

When negativity goes too far

The problem with negative emotions is when they go beyond the cueing or triggering function and start to cause ongoing dissatisfaction or other problems in your world. This is the point at which you really need to start cranking up the problem-solving techniques as well as shooting for that 3:1 positivity ratio.

The trick to it all

As a final thought, it’s good to remember that emotions just are. We don’t have to always put them in the categories of “good” and “bad.” My colleague and fellow blogger, Doug Toft, had an excellent comment regarding this on my last post: As a meditator, my training is simply to observe emotions dispassionately without seeking to cultivate one type of emotion more than others. On the other hand, positive emotions feel GREAT and do have different physiological effects. Maybe the trick is to cultivate positive emotions without resisting negative emotions.

I think that is the trick exactly. Barbara Fredrickson’s work on positive emotions is quite clear that we will always have, and should have, negative emotions. We need to notice them, see what they are giving us cues about, and react in a positive manner without resistance to the negative stuff.

So, next time you feel anger, worry, sadness, or fear, assure yourself, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Takeaway points: Negative emotions are actually okay and we need them. Acceptance and non-resistance are the keys along with noticing what our negative emotions are telling us.

What’s your take on the seeming paradox of creating more positive emotions while at the same time accepting the negative ones?


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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.