Much of our unhappiness is the result of thinking through the lens of a negative emotion. When we are angry or afraid or irritable, the only thoughts we are able to have are those that are consistent with these feelings. This is how the brain is wired. The only time we can think clearly, seeing all sides of an issues, all options for moving forward with a situation or interacting with another person, is when we are in a neutral or positive mood state.
When we are upset, it is not a good idea to think. It only causes us distress. We keep thinking about whatever it is that upset us, and reactivating the pain, fanning the flames, so to speak. This is a habit that we can break. We can learn to stop the thinking. But only when we understand that we have the option to do so, that such thinking is not valuable, and only creates more pain.
In fact, when caught in the wave of a negative emotion, it is not a good idea to do anything. If we speak, act, plan, or decide from this limited and distorted perspective, the outcome will not be good. The only thing to do is to breathe, walk, stretch, recognize the negative emotion, accept it without judgement, and generate some calm and peace to accompany it.
We are under the impression that such thinking is valuable. We are in the habit of indulging this impulse, to actively engage in the negativity, to swim in the riptide.
When we are experiencing a negative emotion, which is normal and common for us all, it as if we are looking at everything through a dark gray lens, and we cannot see all the bright colors – all the good things – that are also part of reality. As if all thinking and perception must pass through a screen coated with black ink, and so can only come out blackened.
When we are caught in a wave of negative emotion we are in an altered neurochemical state, and it creates in our mind the illusion that we are seeing things clearly, that our perspective at the moment is the complete and only correct way of understanding things.
It takes time and it takes practice, but once we become aware of the possibility for this alternative way of reacting to negative emotions, not with more fear or anger but with self-care and calm, we become right away a more happy person.