We live in a world that’s obsessed with happiness.
Your friends’ Instagram feeds are a curated mix of smiling selfies and inspirational quotes with captions like #gratitude. And anytime someone asks how you are, your default answer is always a resounding “Good!” — even if you secretly feel terrible.
Of course, feeling great is great. But are we really supposed to be smiling 24/7? And if we’re not, does that mean that something is wrong?
Not only is it totally fine to feel something other than happy, it can actually be good for you. Here’s a look at the other emotions you should be embracing and what happens when you do.
Happiness Isn’t the Only Good Feeling
Even when you’re in a positive mood, not every emotion you experience could be described as happy. There’s enthusiasm, for instance, or excitement, pride, inspiration or just tranquility. And it’s worth noticing all of them.
In a 2017 study published in the journal Emotion, participants who reported experiencing a greater day-to-day range of positive emotions were found to have lower levels of inflammation compared to those whose feel-good feelings were more limited.
Distinguishing between different positive emotions can help you understand yourself better as well as how you relate to the world around you. This, in turn, can help you regulate your emotions and increase your resilience to stress, says lead study author Athony Ong, Ph.D., professor of human development at Cornell University.
Negative Emotions Have Benefits Too
Sure, there are a lot of compelling reasons to smile. For one, it feels good. And an overall happy outlook is linked to important health benefits — from lowering stress levels to reducing the risk for chronic diseases and even helping you live longer.
But just because feeling happy is good for you doesn’t mean that feeling something else is bad. “Negative emotions serve as an essential for human experience,” says holistic psychologist Ellie Cobb, Ph.D. “How do we develop skills to boost our emotional resilience and intelligence? It’s not always working to be happy — it’s working to accept the range of human emotions.”
In other words, dealing with sadness, anger, frustration and jealousy instead of ignoring it can help us grow. Research shows that embracing unhappy feelings instead of ignoring them can make it easier to cope and eventually move on. For instance, reaching the point of crying actually triggers the release of feel-good hormones.
And often, negative feelings can serve as motivators to improve whatever is putting you in a lousy mood. “When we’re content, by definition, we like things the way they are,” Cobb says.
If you’re angry that you didn’t get that raise, you might be more likely to take on more responsibility at work. If you’re frustrated that your partner left dirty dishes on the counter again, you might use that as a conversation starter about how you divide household responsibilities.
Crummy moods are essential for forging relationships and strengthening bonds too. “Emotions are an adaptive mechanism that we have to communicate with others,” says Cobb.
If a friend confides in you about a bad breakup, you’ll probably remember how you felt when you went through the same thing and, as a result, be able to relate to them on a deeper level.
Plus, as anyone who has ever screamed into a pillow or smashed a dish against the wall can tell you, sometimes letting it out just feels good_._
Pay Attention to Your Feelings
There’s lots of good that can come from feeling things other than happy. But that doesn’t mean you need to seek out negative feelings. “They’re going to come. We don’t need to work at it,” Cobb says.
Instead, when bad vibes start to come up — whether it’s sadness, anger, annoyance or sheer rage — pay attention to them. Negative emotions can be helpful, but only if we acknowledge them.
When you push aside a feeling and pretend everything is fine, it ends up eating away at you from the inside and manifesting itself in weird ways. (Ever snapped at the supermarket checkout person just because you were having a crappy day?)
“Awareness gives us a lot of room to choose what to do with an emotion,” Cobb says. “It gives us power over them.” So when something happens that makes you feel bad, take a pause.
Try to identify what you’re actually feeling, and then make a conscious decision about how you want to respond. If you want to take action, great. And if not, that’s fine too. There’s no rule saying you can’t just let yourself feel something for a while.