Lately I’ve been thinking a great deal about emotions: what emotions are we comfortable expressing? What emotions are not okay with us; the things we feel we mustn’t express?
It turns out that emotions, particularly positive ones, are essential for our learning and for optimal decision-making power. Positive emotion is like motor oil for the engine of our mind; it keeps everything humming along and operating smoothly. It accelerates how we process information and make connections between ideas.
But there is a role for negative emotions in learning as well. Negative emotions in particular tell us a great deal about when there is a conflict with our personal values. Maybe values we didn’t even realise we held.
We’re so often drawn into suppressing our socially unacceptable emotions, even within our own minds. It’s certainly true that we need to find appropriate ways to manage our emotions and to express them in ways that serve our goals rather than getting in our own way. But when we sit with the discomfort before reacting and changing our thinking through rationalising (“well, everything happens for a reason”) or minimising (“mustn’t grumble–it wasn’t that important to me anyway”), we can find a path to deeper clarity about what we truly want–rather than what we think we should want.
Learning to treat negative emotions as information allows us to think more deeply and reflectively about our core guiding values, consider what we want to do, and decide how we want to respond to uncomfortable situations.