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Photo adaptation of this.
A healthy emotional life is not about never experiencing negative emotions, but learning how to channel them in positive and constructive ways.
Here are some activities that are often effective in taking emotions like sadness, anger, or grief, and then using them to learn something about ourselves or creating a more fulfilling and meaningful life.
In my mind, authentic and long-lasting happiness requires what positive psychologist Tal Ben-Sahar calls, “a permission to experience the full range of human emotions.”
This permission includes what are sometimes thought of as “negative” states of mind such as grief, anger, or sadness (the exact opposite of what we would usually consider to be “happiness”). As paradoxical as it sounds, I believe those lows can sometimes be necessary to help define our highs.
Like darkness and light, or yin and yang, happiness and depression are interdependent; you can’t have one concept without implying the other. In fact, even the happiest of individuals occasionally go through bouts of sadness and depression, and I think in many ways we need to occasionally engage with those states if we want to find true bliss in our lives.
Original lyrics from Tyler The Creator in the song, “Radicals.”
As someone who discusses, thinks, and writes about personal development on a daily basis, I occasionally worry about the people who may have tried out my advice and gotten poor results. In an indirect (but ultimately real) way, I am partly responsible for the pain I may have caused in people’s lives when they follow the suggestions on this site and don’t get what they expect. I’m sure out of the near 250 posts I have written within the past two years, I can only imagine that some of it has been less than satisfactory for many readers. That is a karmic price that I have to be willing to pay if I want to maintain this blog, as I am nothing but another student in this game of life – and in no way perfect.
However, I would like to be given a chance to rectify some of this negative karma. And that is why I want to give you a caveat that I believe applies to almost every piece of personal development advice that can be told, whether on this site or elsewhere. And that advice is…
It depends on the person.
The truth is that while we share a lot of similarities as human beings, we are also innumerably complex individuals. No two people are wired exactly the same. We all share different sets of genes, different environments, different experiences. There are multitude of factors that make us who we are, and no single individual can ever be reduced to a blog, or a book, or a mathematical formula, or anything like that.
Thus, every piece of advice you ever get needs to be taken in the context of you and your situation. Sometimes it is good to think more, sometimes it is good to think less. Sometimes it is good to make decisions based on your emotions, sometimes you need to be more detached. Sometimes you should be really mindful and present in the moment, other times it is okay to reminisce on the past or imagine the future. Sometimes it is good to express happiness, sometimes it is good to express depression. Sometimes it is good to socialize, sometimes it is good to enjoy solitude. Sometimes it is good to have focus, goals, and expectations, but sometimes it is good to just wander.
Every piece of personal development advice should come with the warning: “It depends.” Blogs, books, and teachers can give you guidelines and educate you on certain tools in your arsenal, but ultimately it is up to every individual to put those tools to practice and choose what they create with those tools. I can’t make that decision for you! I don’t want to make that decision for you!
Please don’t compromise your free will to anyone (especially not me). And please take every piece of personal development advice with a grain of salt. Psychologists, therapists, counselors, coaches, and bloggers can only make educated suggestions, but you hold the power of choice over what works for you and what doesn’t. For example, right now I’m running a poll on whether or not people use affirmations (a form of self-hypnosis or self-suggestion). So far, it is pretty evenly split between people who use affirmations and notice they have a positive effect, and those who have tried affirmations but they didn’t work.
What matters most is that you know what works for you. And that is why I consider all of the advice on this blog to be optional. Of course, I encourage that you try new things and explore (that’s why I make the suggestions that I do), but I don’t think you absolutely need to do anything that I write about. I believe that everyone has their own path, and the most counterproductive thing any of us could do is try to get everyone to follow the same footsteps. Those aren’t my intentions.
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