“Constant pleasure isn’t pleasurable.” -Baal Shem Tov
In 2016, the self-improvement market in the United States was worth $9.9 billion dollars and financial analysts predict a jump to $13.2 billion by 2022.
If meditation, yoga, and obtaining all the material goods you desire have failed, we have an affirmation for that. And that affirmation likely has something to do with pretending that you aren’t having negative feelings and that instead, you should artificially generate some positive ones!
As of 2017, the antidepressant market was worth $11.6 billion. It turns out our search for constant happiness isn’t making us very happy after all. I will venture further and say that the actual cause of our distress is our continued attempt at averting negative emotions altogether.
I need to add here, that there are absolutely people who have chemical imbalances and serious mental illnesses for which they should absolutely seek medical treatment including antidepressants and therapy. Please know that there is absolutely no shame in seeking help. That is a fundamental of self-care for which I am an outspoken advocate.
What I’m talking about more specifically is the need to experience some negative emotions because these feelings are an indication that something in your life isn’t working.
In fact, the ‘negative’ emotions we spend billions of dollars to erase, stamp out, and avoid are actually some of the most valuable tools we can use to cultivate joy. They are signals pointing us in the direction of our happiness; showing us that something needs to change. They are allies, not enemies. When we shove them away, we are denying half of ourselves and half of our lives and then wonder why we feel unfulfilled.
Our challenging feelings are just as valuable as our joyful feelings. Positive feelings tell us that we’re on the right track; that the activities and relationships that we are engaged in are in alignment with our best selves. Our negative emotions communicate to us when either something is out of balance in our physical world, or when we are misaligned in our internal world. The quickest, simplest way to better understand your feelings is to ask yourself this question the next time a feeling crops up:
What is this feeling trying to tell me?
For instance, when I am feeling energized, motivated, and driven, I can answer that question with, “I’m enjoying the challenge of the day.”
Meanwhile, feelings of sadness or disappointment usually mean that I need to open myself up to new experiences or that I need to shift to a new perspective. Perhaps, I need to reframe a situation, or simply acknowledge an area where I’m powerless and halt my efforts to control that situation.
Real self-discovery typically comes after going through something difficult, and although emotions arise from our consciousness, they are not our consciousness. Our feelings are valid and real, yet they are not reality. Therefore, we can choose to stop and rise above our emotions.
A helpful way to begin working with your emotions in this way is to identify what I call your “default emotion.” We all have our default emotion when something bad happens; when we are experiencing stress or are overwhelmed. When things don’t go your way, what do you typically feel? Rage? Disappointment? Shame? Sadness?
That default emotion is telling you it’s time to look at something. Where does that emotion come from? Can you remember the first time you felt it? What was happening in your environment? Often, our first memories of our default emotion revolve around an experience we had when we were very young. We didn’t have the adult mind we have today and couldn’t fully process that emotion. Therefore, it continues to arise, waiting for us to acknowledge and listen to it.
If we change the thought and root out the cause of the emotion, that feeling dissipates. Instead of resisting your emotions, accepting them completely can be a transforming experience. Don’t try to will them away; just look at the emotion as observationally as you can and figure out the source — because nothing in life happens without reason.
The bottom line is that we need our occasional negative feelings and thoughts. When we have no ups-and-downs, we simply become content with what’s given, not wanting or desiring something more for ourselves, or allowing blessings to come into our lives. This can never make for a truly joyful or happy existence.
The kabbalists teach that it is our desire that pushes us to grow; that our desire is our path to true connection to the Creator. Without the feelings that come from lack and disconnection, we would never be motivated to increase our desire, we would never grow, and we would live an unchanged life—the very antithesis of a life of purpose.
Our feelings push us to unexplored possibilities. They are an intrinsic part of who we are. They activate us to strive for something beyond ourselves, to stumble upon an unmapped avenue. These emotions are meant to be used as indicators; a flashlight in a dense fog. They also remind us to be grateful for all the blessings, big and small, in our lives. Even if our sadness and anger serve only to increase our gratitude, they will have done their job.
I can tell you that inner happiness is maintainable by every single one of us. Everything we do is important, but ultimately, it’s our spiritual work that guarantees us lasting happiness. All it takes is a moment, a breath, and asking your feelings what they are telling you. The best part is, you don’t have to spend a billion dollars to do it.
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Appreciate what your emotions are telling you, find out what they are indicating, and take action.