Be Your Whole Self

12 8 14 Cranky cat“Because I’m Happpppy!” Well, what if you feel crankyyyyy? Do you ever feel guilty because you are constantly told that you should be “happy” but you are not always?

Some experts think the most toxic idea in the happiness movement is that you should always feel good and run from feeling bad. So maybe it’s okay to feel cranky once in a while?

Dr. Todd B. Kashdan, scientist, author and professor of psychology at George Mason University, was a featured speaker last week on the December Wake Up Happy series.

Todd’s recently released book  The Upside to Your Dark Side discusses our ability to access our full range of emotions and behavior—not just the “good” ones—in order to respond most effectively to whatever situation we might meet. Appreciating our entire psychology makes us whole.

What does wholeness mean? Although we know that we have a multi-faceted personality, we tend to focus only on the positive aspects, and shy away from the difficult sides of our personalities. When we prematurely discard other sides of our personality, we’re not whole.

How can we harness the dark sides of ourselves instead of trying to hide them or ignore them?

While it might be useful to avoid uncomfortable feelings, what are the consequences of this? Anger and anxiety are not necessarily debilitating. By always striving to be happy, we get anxious about “being anxious!” We create negative feelings “about having these feelings.” The only thing to fear… is fear itself!

All emotions and thoughts are tools.

Which tool is right for the situation I’m in? Kashdan says we need to get rid of the notion that being happy is good and being unhappy is bad. In this way, we are applying a “moral judgment” to happiness that perhaps does not belong there. Sometimes people who are a little “too” happy have less perseverance. Kashdan’s point of view is very interesting because it seems to contradict some of what we’ve heard elsewhere.

Sometimes we will be happy and sometimes we won’t. If we are so afraid of painful emotions, we will not take risks. Don’t make a bad mood even worse by judging yourself and criticizing yourself for “being” in a bad mood. Create a climate where all emotions have value.

Have we as a society tried too hard to banish negative emotions, when in fact they could bring us closer to other people?

Do not try to force yourself to be happy when evolutionarily, we are meant to feel emotions such as sadness. If we acknowledge that sadness, we can ask for help and connect with other people. Let your emotions be present in the moment. Acknowledge. Move on. Don’t wallow.

There are many effective ways to boost ourselves out of a bad mood. Talking to a friend about your emotions, even if they are negative, will be helpful. Even being on the receiving end of anger, 76% of people say that because of that anger they understand themselves better. Check out Dr. Kashdan’s website at http://toddkashdan.com to learn more about his controversial work.

Where is the line between acknowledging and expressing negativity and wallowing in despair? It’s all about energy. Mix in three bits of action for every negative thought. Action will counteract your “wallowing.” Those actions will help you get out of your head and into your life. 

Here is an example and a confession. The other day I was cranky and I got an idea. I was driving in my car and put in my CD with Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” and tried to rewrite the lyrics as “because I’m cranky.” It was impossible not to smile with glee as I tried to sing words counterintuitive to the music! Result: I was no longer cranky!

Accept the dark side, as well as the light. Acknowledge. Move on. Only then can we be fully whole. 

Now go. The next time you get in a bad mood, I double-dog-dare you to sing: “I’m cranky.” 🙂

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