You might think your happiness depends on experiencing the good things in life, in feelings of love, contentment, trust and excitement.
But as Pixar’s Inside Out and Studio Ghibli’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya have taught us via the medium of animated film, we can learn something from all shades of the human experience.
And now a new study says our life satisfaction may be built on a surprising factor: experiencing negative emotions, as well as positive ones.
Research from the American Psychological Association, published in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, claims there’s a surprising upside to feeling unpleasant emotions, such as hatred, hostility, anger and contempt – it makes us more satisfied overall.
The study aimed to answer the question, ‘Which emotional experiences should people pursue to optimize happiness?’ and involved 2,324 university students across eight countries (United States, Brazil, China, Germany, Ghana, Israel, Poland and Singapore)
It looked in particular at desired emotions: the ones we want to feel, regardless of whether they’re good or bad. One example given by lead researcher Maya Tamir, of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, explained that a person might read about something awful, such as child abuse, and want to feel angry about it. That would be a desired emotion.
The participants were asked about the emotions they desired and the emotions they felt in their lives, and self-rated their life satisfaction and depressive symptoms. Those who felt their desired emotions, whether positive or negative, said they were more satisfied with their lives and reported fewer depressive symptoms than those who didn’t.
Unpleasant emotions covered in the study (known as negative self-enhancing emotions) included hatred, hostility, anger and contempt.
The study states: “These findings suggest that happiness involves experiencing emotions that feel right, whether they feel good or not.”
The conclusion obviously references those who said they desired those negative emotions, and thus it’s perfectly possible you are a person who only desires pleasant emotions and therefore wouldn’t benefit from the unpleasant ones.
But it’s rather unlikely you don’t want to feel any form of negative self-enhancing emotion, such as anger or contempt when you believe something is wrong, and Tamir points out that it shines a light on the often unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves.
“People want to feel very good all the time in Western cultures, especially in the United States,” Tamir said. “Even if they feel good most of the time, they may still think that they should feel even better, which might make them less happy overall.”
Though not mentioned in the study, there’s an argument to be made for the fact lows often make one appreciate the highs.
Similarly, another study points out that resisting bad moods and negative feelings could increase our stress more than actually feeling them. As reported by refinery29.uk, one part of the research revealed those who avoided bad moods reported more mood disorder symptoms than their peers.
Good old cinema – always sees us right.
Images: Rex Features