In the US at least, it’s taken as a given that feeling good is better than feeling bad. We “look on the bright side” as a matter of social pressure. If you say you feel angry, sad or anything else “negative”, you get pushback and even disdain. But a recent paper shows that this is very cultural – and possibly destructive.

This adds to the work of Kateri McRae and colleagues now at Denver that showed when people tried to use “re-framing” in order to change how they felt about something with “bottoms-up emotion” (more meaningful), their anxiety went UP!

What is going on here? Many scientists will take it for granted that trying to maintain a positive attitude is “adaptive” – or helps you. Yet we have two research papers and hordes of anecdotal evidence (and lots of papers that I don’t know about), that show that listening to the message in a negative feeling can both alleviate the feeling and turn into positive action.

Let’s just take a “funk” – the feeling of not wanting to do anything …. it scares people because maybe you or they /won’t/ do anything. On the other hand, let’s suppose one analyzes what is causing the funk – and finds out it is…. xyz. Now if one is careful about this analysis, they can get to the place where “the funk” has taught them something about themselves or their situation that is useful.

Or just take fear, oftentimes we experience it in a twisted way but at its core, it is meant to protect us. We just haven’t learned to look at emotions as data – or the communication of data from the unconscious perceptual apparatus of the brain.

The brain relies on and communicates emotional information – negative and positive – if we reduce our fear of feeling bad, we actually get a more robust data set into our situations … and we in turn, can get motivated. If we squelch the feeling bad, the brain tends to act like a Yorkshire Terrier and just keep at it! … Net net – avoiding feeling bad usually makes it worse. Or as many clients have reminded me, “what you resist, persists“.