We sometimes see people who want to be happy and beat themselves up if they have negative thought or feeling. Being happy, however, doesn’t mean we have to feel joy or pleasure all the time and walk around with a constant smile. It isn’t possible. Sad things happen. It’s human to grieve our losses.
What is more realistic and healthier is emotional diversity. Just as biodiversity is important for a healthy environmental ecosystem, research suggests experiencing a diverse range of emotions (emodiversity) is important for both the physical and mental health ecosystem of humans.
What Does Research Say About Emodiversity?
A ten-year study found that frequently having mixed emotions had a strong correlation with good physical health. Also, increased mixed emotions over many years reduced typical age-related declines in health. However, this study was a subjective one of fewer than 200 people.
Another small, but objective, study found more diversity in everyday positive emotions was associated with lower levels of inflammation circulating in the body. However, the study found no correlation between the range of negative emotions and inflammation or between the ratio of positive-to-negative emotions and inflammation.
Two more extensive studies, which included more 37,000 people, showed overall emodiversity, that is a mix of positive and negative emotions, was associated with better mental and physical health.
One of the inflammation study researchers, Dr. Anthony Ong, said in a Psychology Today article, “...there are many kinds of happiness, and ... experiencing an abundance of different types of positive emotions in daily life may be beneficial to health.”
He went on to say a simple way to put this into daily practice is “to notice when you are experiencing a positive emotion and tag or label it. When you recognize and label a positive emotion, it may help you experience more varied positive emotions throughout the rest of your day.”
Another researcher is Dr. Barbara Frederickson, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. She believes having a 3:1 ratio of three positive emotions to every negative emotion is the key to making life healthier and more vibrant.
Not that we have to count our positive and negative emotions. But if we use Frederickson’s ratio as a general concept or tipping point, we know we don’t have to aim for 100% positivity to flourish.
As part of my coaching practice, I embrace the concept of flourishing — that is, focusing on overall well-being, bringing a sense of meaning and purpose to our lives, and making a conscious effort instead of running on autopilot.
More Thoughts On Happiness and Emotions
When we push negative feelings or emotions away and pretend they don’t exist, they can show up at a later, inappropriate time. The classic example is exploding in anger over a minor incident.
We are human and naturally feel a wide range of emotions. The key is to be aware of our emotions, understand their importance, and make choices that honor our feelings while also leading to better-feeling emotions
You can think of this process as emotional agility. In the book Emotional Agility, Dr. Susan David, a psychologist who is an expert on emotions, shares four key concepts:
1. Showing Up: Have the willingness to face your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Be curious and kind.
2. Stepping Out: Detach from and observe your thoughts and emotions to see that they are just thoughts, just emotions. They are not you.
3. Walking Your Why: Know your core values and use them as a compass to keep moving in the direction you want to go.
4. Moving On: Make small, conscious adjustments to your mindset, motivation, and habits — in ways aligned with your values.
Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness, said in a Psychology Today interview, “What I want people to realize is happiness can be a choice, and it’s something you can practice. But if you’re feeling unhappy, that’s not failure. What we want to steer people away from is apathy, which is that loss of movement.” In other words, embrace emotional diversity and feel whatever emotions arise. But don’t get stuck in them. Keep moving.