The sun was shining and the birds were singing, yet Anna felt nothing but gloominess in her heart. Even though she promised to focus on the positives, her mind always found its way back to the negative. Anna had been trying — and failing — to stay optimistic for weeks now and it was slowly taking its toll on her.
But Anna wasn't alone — her mood mirrored that of so many around her in the same stormy mental state. Despite the messages found in self-help books and glossy magazines telling us that everything’s peachy and we should keep a happy outlook, it’s not always easy to stay positive.
According to scientific research, however, grumpy moods may actually be part of the very fabric of human nature. Contrary to popular belief, it turns out we don't have to always turn to positive thinking in order to boost our happiness and come out of gloomy periods — sometimes it can be strangely beneficial to stay grumpy.
Case in point: A study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin revealed that people who experienced or expressed negative emotions during difficult times did better than those who weren't honest about their feelings. Those who adopted a sunny attitude tended to ignore their obstacles, instead of facing up to them.
But that doesn't mean you should wallow in a pool of misery. While it's key to acknowledge the full scope of our emotions, it's important to develop strategies so that your emotional struggles don't take over your life.
Take Jewish philosopher Maimonides's advice and practice an attitude of equanimity. This means remaining balanced, no matter what happens. Accepting our emotions can help us observe them neutrally and process them in a more productive manner, so they don't have such an intense hold on us.
Humans are wired to respond with negative inputs when danger is present, so it's essential that we listen to how we feel. These responses provide us with crucial insight, which can help guide us toward action steps that foster resolution and provide clarity.
Next, clarify your values and determine what’s truly important to you. Rather than searching for external sources to fill this void, focus on finding contentment within yourself. Establish practices that will be easy to implement into your routine and give you a sense of comfort and joy.
Rather than pretending that it’s all fine, take the time to get to know yourself better — recognize the cracks and imperfections, while celebrating the strengths and wisdom you've gained throughout your life. None of us are perfect, but turning to nurturing behavior has been proven to work wonders in terms of feeling better.
Talking to friends or family members, or even a therapist, can be a valuable step toward attaining greater understanding of ourselves and our emotions, while offering us powerful social connections to help us cope. Also, getting a weekly check-in with someone can ensure that you’re maintaining good mental health.