Good And Bad Emotions: Finding The Perfect Mix

Some people appear to be hopped up on happy pills, being oblivious to any bad events going on around them. Others are all too quick to express their disgust at anything that doesn’t go exactly their way.

Could it be that the healthiest emotional mix is somewhere between the extremes? Say, four parts good feelings to one part bad feelings, shaken not stirred, and served with a twist of lime?

We all know that some people seem determined to be miserable. The other day on the radio, I heard about a study that found many people actually resist being happy. It turns out that trying to reassure someone when they’re depressed is likely to make them feel worse.

The suspected reason for this is that some people feel the need to stay attached to their perception of reality. They make a negative statement like “I hate my job.” Then someone tries to make them feel better by saying, “It’s OK, your job isn’t that bad.” But this statement conflicts with their perception.

They may resolve this conflict by saying, “Yes, my job IS that bad, and I’ll tell you why…” Feeling that they’re forced to prove their point, they end up making themselves feel worse.

Of course, there’s no need to prove that you hate your job. Instead of remaining attached to that perception and defending it against any evidence to the contrary, you could instead change your perception. Everything can be seen from multiple perspectives, and if you choose to look on the bright side of things, you’ll dramatically boost your happiness.

At the same time, do you want to improve your life solely by forcing yourself to see the good side, or do you also want your life to actually get better? Here’s where negative emotions come in. They tell us that something’s not right, thereby steering us towards what we want.

Consider the evolutionary purpose of pain. If you were to stick your hand in a fire, it would hurt. The pain would make you quickly recoil your hand and run off in search of water. Of course, you wouldn’t enjoy the pain, but if you didn’t feel it, you’d leave your hand in the fire and cause serious damage or death. The pain tells you you’re doing something wrong, and provides some very strong motivation to correct it immediately.

It works the same way with emotions. You may not like feeling negative emotions, but if you felt perfectly happy regardless of your circumstances, why would you ever try to make the right choices?

Even homeless people have a lot to be thankful for. But if a homeless person is constantly overjoyed with their life, they won’t be motivated to change it. On the other hand, someone who feels the fear of becoming homeless will do whatever they can to prevent that from happening.

The purpose of pain is to make you avoid danger. But once you’re doing everything you can, feeling more pain doesn’t help. If something is medically wrong with you, then a little pain is good, because it makes you go to the doctor. But chronic pain after you’re already receiving treatment is bad, because it hurts without a purpose. Likewise, negative emotions are bad once they get beyond the point of being constructive.

There are two extremes that you want to avoid. Staying constantly focused on what’s wrong with your life may make you determined to fix the situation, but it will put you through far more misery than necessary. On the other hand, acting like Pollyanna on Prozac all the time may make you feel good, but it won’t inspire you to action when something is going wrong.

The best mix is to enjoy good emotions most of the time, while allowing negative emotions to serve their purpose now and then. By looking for the good side in everything, you’ll make the most of what life has to offer. And by periodically acknowledging what’s not working for you, you’ll keep up the motivation to work towards what you really want.

Hunter is a Guest Blogger for PickTheBrain and a personal development blogger, seeking life lessons wherever they may appear.

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  • Great guest post. It’s so important to find a balance between good and bad emotions. While I focus primarily on the positive aspects of life on my blog, I firmly believe that you have to let yourself feel what you feel — good AND bad. Great write up of an important topic!

    • I think it’s great that even someone who goes by “Positively Present” allows room for balance in emotions!

  • It tends to be peculiar to those who aren’t negative when dealing with those who tend to speak negatively, like in your example of “I hate my job”, or “my life is messed up”. One suitable response to a person with a routinely negative attitude would be “okay”, as the person would find another person to complain to if you didn’t accept their complaints. As long as positive folk band together, others will realize that their complaints(with no action behind them) are not helpful to any audience.

    A person saying “I hate my job” is looking to take more from the listener than they are willing to give, and this is why that type of communication leads the speaker in the wrong direction. Also, the same person that would say “I hate my job” is often quiet for hours until they see the person that allows them to complain to them, and then they start complaining. It is fine to not serve as their audience, as the person who complains in such a way will likely have a new job within a short period of time whether their complaints were heard or not.

    • Good point about people who want to take more than they give. We have to recognize these situations and not allow people to take too much.

  • OXM

    I heard an interview with singer Nick Cave once, and he was asked why he moved from sunny Australia to London. He answered that in London people were allowed to be miserable.

    I think this is a problem in American society too. People need to realize the pursuit of happiness is a right, not a duty, and that being miserable is as natural as being happy.

    • That reminds me of a study of people who moved to areas with better weather. Although they were happy to be out in the sun at first, their happiness returned to normal once they got used to the weather. So it’s easy to be miserable even in a great climate, at least if the culture permits it!

  • Chris

    Thinking about balancing positive and negative emotions is not so helpfull. Generally, the desirablity of life balance is an illusion that holds many people back. It is better to have emotions that are to the point. I.e., not emotions that overreact or underreact but honest emotions that keep you into contact with the issue you are facing instead of flying off in all kinds of tangents. Being aware when you are flying off on all kinds of tangents is the first step here.

    • I don’t think you really have to think about balancing emotions, but it’s more of a natural state that you achieve when you’re honest with yourself.

  • It’s true that if you can be perfectly honest with yourself things will be better. We are very deceptive creatures and can try to convince ourselves everything is fine even when it’s not. If you don’t like your job, and it’s a true honest feeling, move on and find something better. It’s a total waste spending all that time on something that you hate, life is only short. I left my career because it just wasn’t for me, it took me four years though. Those four years where like misery, but when I made the decision it felt much better, the rest of the time felt fine because there was an end in sight.

  • Great article, Hunter. I particularly like that you gave emphasis on balancing BOTH negative and positive emotions. It allows you to face realities in life BUT at the same time, prevents you from being too pessimistic. I think that in order to achieve optimum happiness, it requires a healthy dose of positive AND negative emotions. :)

  • Nice balance with this article. For me, having moved beyond the concept of considering myself a positive person, I tend to now see all emotions on a single equal level. Anger isn’t bad. Joy isn’t good. They just are and when I am able to experience them as they are I neither attempt to push them away nor try to hold onto them. Simply experience and be there in that experience. It’s cool :)


  • The balance of good and bad emotions is good. But make sure that positive emotions are the dominate force with in your conscious mind. All else will leave you in anger, jealously, depression and hate.

    Any thoughts?

  • Until you realize its ok to ask for what you want and hang saying how bad you have well thats how bad you will have it and if just go for what you want it will come to you because you are putting yourself in that direction I sure have

  • I’ve created what I call a “Happy Page” in my diary that I look at every morning when I wake up. It contains a list of all the things I can be grateful for now, a list of things I am proud of myself for, and a list of the things that make me feel good. I also have images that remind me of the things that make me happy. I’ve found this a really powerful way of creating positive emotions.

  • Great post! Very good points about egging on depression by discussing how horrible ones job is. Thanks for the thoughts.

  • Pingback: life is a well balanced mix of emotions : gifts to enjoy()

  • Cherylzelenka


    I am a brain tumor survivor. As it was undiagnosed for about ten years, I nearly died last year. I also suffered from clinical depression due to the location of the tumor.  As I piece my life back together, I feel the desire to encourage others. God is faithfully giving me the strength to piece my life back together. I have a blog for people going through difficult trials. I hope you visit it.