Perhaps there could be no joy on this planet without an equal weight of pain to balance it out on some unknown scale.― Stephenie Meyer, The Host
Hello my Zebras and Spoonies! Thanks for coming and hanging out with me today, I’m glad that you are here. Today I am going to be talking about the emotional states of joy and sorrow. In many ways, we consider these two feelings to be polar opposites of each other which is why they cause us so much confusion when a single event elicits both from us at the same time. Society also labels joy to be the “good” emotion and sorrow to be the “bad” emotion. While one is certainly more pleasurable to have around, I would argue that both are of equal value to our health and well being.
The first thing that I want to talk about is the reality that emotions are on a spectrum. Joy and sorrow are more extreme manifestations of emotion. It is not normal to experience sustained heightened emotional states. These emotions require physical resources to produce in the way of chemicals in our brain. Plus, they induce a physical state in our body that is charged emotionally. This is why exciting events make us feel tired and why the anxiety from the pandemic has been so exhausting.
Usually, we don’t have these strong feelings, but something closer to contentment and indifference. Contentment is that calm feeling that everything is good in the world and your needs are being met. You feel satisfied and have accepted your current state of being. Indifference is a state of fatigue that often comes when we have been in a sustained emotional state and now need an emotional rest. This is a state when we no longer have the energy to invest emotionally with anything. We don’t care if it is raining or sunny today because we don’t have the energy to invest in the weather. We are indifferent when we are unsatisfied and have not accepted the current state of being. This is when we are taking a break before again working on emotionally processing.
Now, let’s consider what our emotions really are. We often think of our emotions as being a response to external stimuli and in a way, that’s accurate. But, let’s do a little bit of a frame shift and instead think of them as an internal status report. When we have an emotional response to something, it is a report regarding our personal needs. If our personal needs are being met, we have emotions like happiness and contentment. If our emotional needs are being denied, we experience emotions like sadness and indifference. When our emotional states is being threatened, we have feelings like fear or anger. When we consider emotions in this context, it is impossible to consider any of them as good or bad emotions. After all, they are simply communicating our status in the same way that hunger or fullness is communicating a status. Our emotions are no different. Like hunger, some of our emotions indicate that there is an internal lack that needs to be addressed. While, like fullness, other emotions are a report that the internal needs are being met. Hunger and fullness are not good or bad. Neither are our emotional states.
This allows us the ability to take pause and consider what it is that our emotions are telling us about a situation. When we are feeling angry about a situation, it is because we are being threatened in some way. It can be very powerful to stop and consider what that emotional threat is. Sometimes, that threat is a trigger warning from a past trauma and sometimes is it because our boundaries are being crossed. Either way, knowing what is causing that anger gives us the power to better respond to the situation. In this way, we can use our emotions as guide posts to our internal wellness rather then as objectives to be met. Life isn’t about being happy. Rather happiness is a report about how well your needs for maintaining life are being met. And just like the sensation of fullness, the emotion of happiness is a fleeting report that does not linger long.
In fact, when we sustain the emotion of happiness for prolonged periods of time, it is considered a pathology called mania. Sustaining happiness over a prolonged period of time leads to distorted cognitive functioning and delusional thinking. Thus, happiness isn’t something that we should be chasing as an objective to be met in life; as some measure of success. Because happiness is not sustainable. It is an emotion and like all intense human emotion; it is fleeting in its nature. And there is nothing wrong with this. We don’t need to feel happiness in order to be healthy and well. In fact, the absence of sorrow does not equate to the presence of happiness. These are not opposing emotions with one or the other present nor are they constantly warring for dominance inside us. Rather, they are just different guide posts that relate different messages about our internal status.
Because these emotions are simply guide posts to our internal status and needs, they in and of themselves don’t really mean much at all. Having an anger response due to a trigger from a trauma years ago is likely no longer serving a good functional purpose. But it is still signaling that sense of threat and danger. You are never going to erase or forget the traumas that you’ve experienced over your life time and your emotional guide posts are going to do their best in preventing you from experiencing those kinds of trauma a second time by signaling you when there are potential threats. However, that doesn’t mean that we are required to engage with those emotional responses that we are having. We can evaluate the warning and consider if it does apply to the current situation and we can then make a choice how to move forward.
Just like our guide posts remind us of trauma, they remind us of wounds yet unhealed. When we suffer, we are emotionally cut and those emotional cuts take time to heal. We call this grieving. Any loss, any suffering can be grieved. It isn’t limited to the death of a loved one. It can be the loss of your ability to walk, the change in your work role or the separation from a friend. Anything that causes suffering results in grief. That is how we process through our complex feelings wrapped up in that loss. Thus, there are times that our guide posts need to remind us to be gentle with ourselves while we are grieving. This is why we are often surprised with surges of sorrow while we are processing our grief. Something has touched that wound and we are reminded that it is there; that care and caution is needed.
When we consider how these emotions act as guideposts to our internal needs, it becomes easier to understand how we can have seemingly conflicting emotions in response to a single event. Consider a friend getting a great job opportunity that requires them to move to another state. You feel both happy and sad in response to this news. Your happiness is a guidepost that is telling you that you are feeling well connected to this friend and your internal need to be included is being met. Your sadness is a guide post that is telling you that you are feeling that there is a threat to this emotional connection that you have with your friend. Both are valid and worthy of being allowed space. Neither feeling is bad.
We often need these emotional guide posts because our internal state is complex and layered. Just like we need signals from our physical body to tell us how to properly care for it. These emotions we are feeling are the signals that are telling us how to care for the emotional body that we carry, unseen, inside us. Giving our emotions space is giving them consideration and making an effort to understand the message that they are trying to relate about the status of our emotional bodies. When we take the time to listen to the messages that our physical and emotional bodies are sending us, we have the opportunity to better meet the needs we are having. As a result, we can achieve a greater wellness.
When we consider our emotions to be guide posts to our internal wellness, it becomes easy to see why it is possible to be toxic in positivity. Putting a “good” value only on emotions that are pleasant to feel and trying to chase away or dismiss all of our other feelings can be damaging. We are having those feelings for valid reasons. When we deny the messages that our internal needs are sending us, we will not address those needs. Not addressing those needs leads to longer term problems. This is akin to ignoring hunger or fatigue sensations from our physical bodies.
Well, that’s about it for my rambling today. Thanks for coming and spending some time with me. If you like what you read, click on that like button. It really does help! Until we talk again, you take care of yourselves!