6 ways to survive positive emotions
Last time I talked about how to deal with negative emotions: rage, embarrassment, disappointment, etc. In some ways positive emotions are even more difficult to deal with.
Some people (okay, okay, I’m talking about me) have trouble when things are going well. Yes, it’s nice, but we are so used to things feeling, being or going bad that when something wonderful happens there’s an underlying feeling of catastrophe about to happen.
The other shoe…this feels really good right now, I’m having a great time! So something is bound to come along and mess it up.
Yes, that’s true. And no, it doesn’t really matter.
1. Sit in the mess
Sitting in the mess — allowing yourself to feel the feeling no matter what — seems like a no-brainer when you are feeling happy. But it can be harder than it seems it ought to be because sometimes there is a lurking fear that something is going to come along and spoil it.
And that’s not wrong. Nothing is permanent. Good things, bad things — neither are permanent.
That does not mean that the emotion is invalid or that you “don’t get to be happy.” Obviously when you feel good or things are going well…you are getting to be happy! Embrace it. Hug it to you and smile about it.
2. Listen to the story you are telling yourself
“I don’t get to be happy” is a story. “Something always comes along and ruins my happiness” is a story. Listen to that story. It’s probably almost as old as you are but the truth is, you can rewrite that story. First, though, you have to hear it and label it for what it is. Just a story.
When you hear yourself say “I don’t get to be happy” label that as just a thought. It’s something you always tell yourself. It’s a thought that is intended to shield you from disappointment. Disappointment is very painful. Anticipating a bad feeling should make it hurt less, but it doesn’t. The anticipation just robs you of your happy moment.
3. Rewrite the story
A life is full of rise and fall, like ocean waves. You can ride those waves without robbing yourself of your happiness. When you hear yourself say “this won’t last,” recognize that as a way to shield yourself from hurt. Allow yourself to be grateful for the help. “Thank you for trying to shield me from pain” and return your attention to the present happiness. Blow out the candles, cuddle the baby, hug your mother. Allow the joy to rest in your heart.
4. Watch out for happiness
There’s more happiness in the world than you might think. Even an extremely miserable situation has lighter moments. Human beings have survived for millions of years because we keep an eye out for lions and tigers and bears … or anything else that might be a problem. That’s a good thing.
But if the story we are telling ourselves is that the world/situation/job is miserable, we aren’t looking or anything else and overlook the fact that nothing is ever 100% of something. In the darkest disaster, there will be an excellent cup of coffee or a good joke you overheard or a kindness someone did for you that warmed your heart.
You can train yourself to look for happy moments in the worst possible situation — prison, divorce, financial disaster. No matter what, the misery will never be seamless. There will always be drops of sunlight you can enjoy, you just have to get in the habit of looking for them.
5. Knowing that you get that way
If you frequently (or always) spoil happy moments by fretting about what will go wrong or making psychic predictions about the grim future or having anxiety about waiting for the next hurt, then you should be aware that you get that way and prepare yourself for it. When you are not in crisis, remind yourself that there are lovely little things around you and keep looking for them. That way when things are terrible, you will have some practice. Also when you are in the middle of something you know you ought to be enjoying and you catch your mind worrying over things that aren’t happening now, you will be prepared. You know you get that way. Let the worry go for a moment and return your attention to what’s going on now.
6. All feelings are important
Feelings are feelings and they are you and you are them. Sad, angry, embarrassed, happy, contented, proud — all those things come from the same heart and mind and they are all valuable. There is no way that you should feel.
But when there is a moment when you are contented and proud and it starts to get messed up with worry and anxiety, there are ways to cope with it and allow the moment be happy.
All it takes is some practice and some kindness toward yourself.
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