Are negative emotions really negative?


What people refer to as ‘negative’ emotions are not really bad emotions. They are not there to make us suffer or to hurt us. They are there for a reason, to draw our attention to something. A few of these emotions that we are most familiar with are shame, sadness, anger and fear.

If we consider that emotions have to catch our attention to make us aware of something or to warn us from danger, it makes sense that these feelings need to be quite powerful (in a negative way). If it wasn’t uncomfortable, we probably wouldn’t pay any attention to the feeling at all and we would most probably miss the message completely.

Historically, these so-called “negative emotions” were our first warning against threats and those who were most sensitive to the negative emotions, were the ones who survived (they were more ready to fight or to run when needed). So really, they are not all so bad. They are just trying to get our attention to tell us something important.

Today, most of us don’t have to run or fight danger in the same way we might have thousands of years ago (lions, invaders, etc.). At the same time, our minds have more and more complex thoughts and beliefs than ever. These thoughts and beliefs affect how we feel in a very direct way. We might feel angry when someone does something that goes against our values or beliefs. We are likely to feel afraid if we think of possible unwanted outcomes to answer the question “what next?”

The best way to deal with uncomfortable emotions is to really pay attention to them. Paying attention means, really feeling our emotions, knowing exactly which emotions we feel and then investigating what is behind them. Feeling Magnets, the tool, is a playful and profound product that we created to help people identify and understand their emotions, and this article is just an introduction to help you see why this is important.

Interested in knowing why we have positive emotions? Read What good does it do to focus on positive emotions?

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Achor, S. (2011). The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles that Fuel Success and Performance at Work, Virgin Books
Seligman, M. (2004). Authentic Happiness, Atria Books
Reivich, K., Shatte, A. (2003). The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life's Hurdles, Broadway Books

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