Does Accepting Negative Emotions Make You Happier?

· May 20, 2019
Although it's unpleasant to experience negative emotions, learning to accept them can be very beneficial to your health and well-being.

It isn’t pleasant to experience negative emotions. In fact, it can be downright painful, especially if you consider that your brain is designed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. That’s why accepting negative emotions can be so complicated. As difficult as it may be, however, doing so can positively impact your well-being.

People tend to repress negative emotions such as fear, sadness, or anger. The problem is that repressing these emotions can have harmful, long-term physical and mental repercussions. Avoiding or rejecting emotions doesn’t make them go away. In fact, the opposite is true. If you try to ignore them, they tend to build up and cause greater suffering.

Thus, dealing with your negative emotions in a constructive way can help you evolve. This process makes it possible to achieve your goals, form healthier relationships with others, and get to know yourself better. Let’s delve a little deeper into this.

A sad woman with her hand on the window.

Accept Negative Emotions without Judgment

Anger, fear, and sadness are emotions that most of us experience on a regular basis. Just as they tell you something about yourself and your needs, they also tend to cause stress and anxiety if you don’t manage them properly. This is why people tend to choose to avoid them or ignore them most of the time.

The truth is, negative emotions can be healthy. In fact, dealing with these emotions without denying them or judging them can be far better than ignoring them.

Learning how to deal with negative emotions is difficult. After all, it involves analyzing them and reflecting on what they’re trying to tell you. This doesn’t mean that you have to let them take over. Instead, it means that you have to be aware of them and understand why you feel the way you feel.

Dealing with negative emotions means keeping them under control without denying what you’re feeling.

The Difference between Acceptance and Suffering

It’s important to be aware of the difference between accepting negative emotions that cause suffering and self-imposed suffering.

Acceptance is closely related to balance. Achieving balance is difficult in the Western world, as there’s a lot of pressure to be happy all the time. This is an unrealistic expectation that can affect your psychological well-being. Thus, the ultimate goal is to strike a balance between positivity and negativity, as it can restore satisfaction in your life.

However, this is a process that takes time and work. It isn’t easy to accept negative emotions. Just like any other cognitive habit, it’s a skill that you can develop and perfect with time and practice.

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

-Buddha-

Strategies to Manage Negative Emotions

Experts have developed various strategies to accept and process negative emotions. TEARS HOPE is one in particular that Ceri Sims refers to her in her research and has become quite popular.

TEARS

  • T – Teach and learn. This strategy involves working on self-awareness and learning about your body and mind and how they respond to different emotional states. This makes it easier to understand when you’re angry and why. It also makes it easier to interpret the signs your body is sending to your brain.
  • E – Express and enable sensory and embodied experiences. This technique involves encouraging inner openness and curiosity to increase acceptance of what happens in your day-to-day life.
  • A – Accept and befriend. You have to increase your self-compassion and work on being more tolerant of frustration.
  • R – Re-appraise and re-frame. This technique consists of learning to see things differently. Cognitive-behavioral exercises are perfect for this strategy.
  • S – Social Support. You should work on feeling more connected with other people and more compassionate towards yourself. Investing time and energy in your relationships is also important. Meditation and mindfulness can be very useful here.
A woman meditating on a mountaintop.

HOPE

  • Hedonic well-being/happiness. Research on the subject shows that maintaining a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative emotions can be beneficial. That means that it’s important to have positive experiences every day. You should focus on happy memories and savor your success. That helps increase the amount of time you spend with a positive mental state, which compensates for negative emotions.
  • O – Observe and attend to. This technique focuses on practicing mindfulness and not paying so much attention to things that aren’t that important.
  • P – Physiology and behavioral changes. It’s productive and beneficial to concentrate on relaxation, breathing exercises, and self-care.
  • Eudaimonia. This last element involves feelings of authenticity and fighting for personal goals in your life.

Accepting Negative Emotions Makes You Feel Better

Most health care professionals agree that accepting negative emotions without judgment is one of the best ways to improve your psychological well-being. Consequently, most psychologists recommend learning how to manage them.

Iris Mauss, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, explains that people who accept their negative emotions tend to experience fewer of them. That leads to better psychological health.

In addition, research suggests that people who’re less bothered by their negative emotions tend to report higher levels of happiness and satisfaction than those who make themselves feel bad for feeling bad.

As you can see, accepting your negative emotions and working on them is crucial for your mental health and well-being.

  • Cacioppo JT, Gardner WL, Berntson GG. El sistema de afecto tiene componentes de procesamiento paralelos e integrativos: la forma sigue la función. Revista de Personalidad y Psicología Social. 1999; 76 (5): 839-855.
  • Cámaras R, Gullone E, Allen NB. Regulación emocional plena: una revisión integradora. Revisión de la psicología clínica. 2009; 29 (6): 560–572.
  • Sims, C. (2017). Second wave positive psychology coaching with difficult emotions: Introducing the mnemonic of ‘TEARS HOPE’. The Coaching Psychologist, 13(2), 66-78.