People are often continually striving for happiness, oftentimes to the point that they blow past the other emotions they experience throughout their day. I am definitely not here at all to say that happiness is not a fabulous thing to strive for. I wholeheartedly believe that seeking and finding joy, happiness, and gratitude can really enrich our relationships and lives. What I am saying, and realizing even more, is that it’s okay to feel other emotions. In fact, it’s more than okay – it’s to our benefit to fully experience other emotions.
So how did I get to this realization? I’ve recently started reading an incredible book, The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self – Not Just Your “Good Self- Drives Success and Fulfillment  and it has created a much greater awareness in me in the power and value of experiencing all our emotions. Contrary to many theories out there, this book highlights that being happy and optimistic is not the end-all be-all to leading a fulfilling life. Rather, the authors propose that experiencing all emotional states are actually the path to a more fulfilling life, with the idea that every emotion serves a purpose and that by fully experiencing each you become “whole.”
I know that when I got diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis that initially I went through a rapid cycle, not-so-pretty range of emotions. Thankfully, as time has gone on, while I still find myself cycling through a variety of emotions regarding my illness, the pace has greatly decreased (at least on most days). I’ve also always believed in most cases it’s good to let ourselves process each of our emotions and that what is key is to take what we can of the less positive emotions, grow from them, and then move on. However, I never realized just how important it is to do that.
This book really reinforces the value in doing just that. I found the examples in the book to be incredibly helpful. For example, they talked about how guilt can be a signal to ourselves that we are violating our own moral code and therefore need to adjust our actions or our code; experiencing grief can help us identify our losses and come to acceptance of them; anger can motivate us to find ways to change or modify the instigating set of circumstances or our perspective on them; and doubt can prompt us to step back, look at our skills and help us identify where we can improve them.
These are just a few quick examples but they highlight how what we often consider negative emotions are actually signals to us that also present opportunities. One lesson I learned from reading the initial chapters of this book is simply to not let myself feel bad for experiencing “negative” emotions. They arrive for a reason and they serve a valuable purpose in our lives. However, it’s important to keep in mind too that the buck doesn’t stop there. If we don’t let ourselves feel these emotions and then also respond to the signals they are providing us, we will get “stuck” in that emotion. Dwelling too long in a negative emotion can often do us more harm than good. In addition, it reminded me of the value in not avoiding certain emotions. I can honestly say I’m guilty of doing this in certain circumstances. However, if we avoid feeling certain emotions, lose ourselves in distractions to erase them from our mind, we also lose out on the opportunities to gain from them and to find solutions to them.
While I’m only a few chapters into this book I’ve already learned a lot. Most of all though is that I need to start more fully experiencing (and appreciating!) all of my emotions. By glossing over some of the less positive ones, opportunities are passing me by. I’m missing out on the “whole” experience of my life.
This is my life; I want it all!
 Todd Kashdan, PhD, and Robert Biswas-Diener, Dr. Philos. (2014), “The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self – Not Just Your “Good Self-Drives Success and Fulfillment.” New York, New York: Hudson Street Press