The Magic of Negative Emotion

“Sometimes happiness is a blessing, but, generally, it is a conquest…” – Paul Coelho

We are all striving for happiness. Heck, I spent a whole year doing (what seemed like) nothing but that. But happiness is a temporary, emotional state and has become such a cliché, I’m not even sure what it means anymore.

Furthermore, positive psychology is often misunderstood to be the science of happiness. It’s actually the science of well-being, which refers to an overall life success across the many domains of our lives, not just in terms of a temporary state of positive emotion like happiness. Yes, the broad range of positive emotion is included in well-being, but it’s only a part.

Well-being also respects and values the importance of negative emotion. Just as Coelho suggests, negative emotion such as anxiety, stress, anger, and discouragement are magic moments that can fuel us to make much needed change or to chase our dreams:

“…Each day’s magic moment helps us to change and sends us off in search of our dreams.” – Coelho, cont’d

Many people seem to equate happiness with the time that they can kick back, retire and drink margaritas all day, as if their life can only begin when they hit 65.  Talk about the ultimate in delayed gratification.

The ideal retirement?

The ideal retirement?

Perhaps if our day jobs are that soul-sucking, then that philosophy makes a lot of sense. But for most of us, 65 is a long way off and we may not even make it that far.

Perhaps a more useful approach would be to channel that soul-sucking emotion into something else. What will give your work meaning and satisfaction? What dreams are you postponing or burying? What can you do today to move closer to that dream? Don’t accept that negative emotion – channel those magic moments in a way that feeds your soul and spirit.

Sitting on a beach drinking exotic cocktails may be relaxing but after a while, the soul and spirit will long for more. That “happiness” gets old and is replaced with boredom or the desire for something more satisfying. So really, we’re once again left with the paradox of needing negative emotion to fuel our search for our dreams in a way that energizes us and makes us feel alive in our authentic way. Don’t wait for Senior Day on that beach in Cancun to learn that lesson when you have so much life to be living right now.

But what is that life given our soul-sucking jobs?  Joseph Campbell advises us that it’s not happiness or meaning we’re searching for, but rather the joy of feeling alive:

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

What makes you feel most energized and alive? Let that be your guide to finding your authentic “happiness”.

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