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Can Negative Emotions Make Us Feel Better?

When it comes to feeling happy in ourselves many will say that a positive outlook is the key, but real life has funny way of making us feel less than positive. However, a new study has presented the idea that negative emotions can actually improve our wellbeing. Is this claim just contrarian thinking, or does it have some validity?

What Did the Study Consist Of?

The study was an internationally researched research piece, assessing the emotional satisfaction of 2,300 university students from the US, Brazil, China, Singapore, Israel, Poland, Germany, and Ghana. The students were asked about what emotions they felt on a regular basis and this was compared with their responses in regards to satisfaction.

A pattern emerged that heavily illustrated those who allowed themselves to feel negative emotions – such as anger – were overall more satisfied. Interestingly, 11% said they wanted to feel less positive emotion and 10% stated they wanted to feel more negative ones. This could well be a response of those who are dissatisfied with feeling apathetic, or simple wanting to develop greater emotional range and communication.

anger negative emotionsWhy Do Negative Emotions Help Wellbeing?

One of the possible reasons for negative emotions being beneficial is that anger can be something of a catharsis when processing difficult situations. By keeping emotions bottled up or simply not being able to fully express them, the growth and learning experience of bad situation may not happen. Additionally, not feeling suitably angry at a horrific situation – perhaps in the news – may leave someone feeling doubtful over their emotional depth and empathy.

In relation to this, the desire by a percentage of the students wanting to feel fewer positive emotions is likely a result of a personal situation. Perhaps they are in an unsatisfying relationship and can’t end it due to lingering fondness of their partner. Or, they may just feel being overly cheerful can sometimes be socially damaging as it could come across as insincere, another extension of wanting greater emotional depth.

Are There Flaws in the Study?happy negative emotions

As with any piece of new research there are inevitable holes in the logic. For one, the study only focuses on anger as the central negative emotion. In terms of more lingering feelings of negativity such as; sadness, guilt, or anxiety, the effects may not have the same sense of catharsis. Instead, these emotions may well exacerbate an already existing feeling of inadequacy rather than lay out a path to a positive outlook.

Finally, there is a building expectation in modern life that puts emphasis of constant positivity always being good. This is often portrayed through social media with people highlighting the happiest moments. This could lead to people who are already happy still feeling as if they are falling short, subsequently shutting out potentially beneficial feelings of anger.

Ultimately, the research should be taken with a pinch of salt, but many of us may well vouch for feeling better after letting out some anger.