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Your wisdom and happiness depends on you and your state of mind. If you can deal with your negative emotions, you can remain positive and happy.
On the other hand, there are those who radiate joy and happiness, despite suffering the most terrible hardships.
So what’s their secret?
It’s easy to say “think positive”, “look on the bright side”, “stop thinking your cup’s half empty and realise it’s half full” – but, as I know from personal experience, it’s not so easy to apply that kind of advice.
I’ll come clean and admit that I’ve been a life-long worrier, and in the past I often had a tendency to look on the black side.
In this post, I’m going to share with you a simple but powerful four step program that has helped me to change my perspective on life and has given me more wisdom and happiness. I’ve found it to be a very effective way to deal with those negative emotions that can make your life a misery.
It’s based on the teachings of Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit (Roman Catholic) priest, who drew on the teachings of Eastern mystics, as well as his own Christian tradition.
However, I want to emphasise that what follows has no “religious” component – I don’t personally subscribe to any particular religion, but still find de Mello’s teachings inspirational, because of his deep insights into the psychology of human wisdom and happiness.
How to Deal With Negative Emotions
Step One: Get In Touch With Your Negative Feelings
We all have negative feelings – but do you realise you may be harbouring some you’re not even aware of?
People are often weighed down by feelings of depression, anger, guilt, self-hatred, anxiety, jealousy, envy, nervous tension – but they don’t always recognise them for what they are.
You may have witnessed the slightly comic effect of someone in a violent rage, screaming “I’m NOT angry!!” – that’s an extreme example of someone who’s clearly out of touch with their feelings.
But it’s surprising how easy it is for us to be in a state of denial about our less attractive and endearing emotions.
We love telling people how happy we are; but it’s not so comfortable to acknowledge we’re full of suppressed envy, guilt, anxiety or depression.
The trouble is, those feelings often find expression in other ways – for example, they can affect our behaviour and the way we treat people, or they can result in problems such as insomnia, or physical illnesses like high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes.
Our negative feelings are at the root of our unhappiness, but we can’t deal with them if we’re not in touch with them. Dealing with the symptoms (the marriage that’s on the rocks, the chronic indigestion, that terrible relationship with your boss) isn’t going to lead to a lasting solution.
It’s like treating flea bites that keep appearing on your legs when your house is infested – the bites will keep coming back unless and until you realise your house is full of fleas and you get rid of them.
So that’s step one: be honest with yourself and get in touch with those dark feelings you may not want to own up to.
Step Two: Understand the Feeling is in YOU, Not in Reality
That may seem obvious, but we’re very good at projecting our feelings onto the external world – or onto other people. Here’s a simple example:
You feel miserable because it’s raining today – you might even say something like, “it’s a miserable day”. No it’s not! The day is fine, the weather is fine – it’s raining, that’s all. Maybe there’s a hurricane blowing. But if you’re feeling miserable, that feeling’s in you; it’s not part of external reality. The problem exists in your head.
Or maybe it’s a person who’s getting you down, and you’ll say, “She makes me so angry!” Does she really? Can someone else actually get inside your head and make you angry?
So you’re feeling all this anger inside, but you’re not “owning” the anger; you’re too busy blaming the other person (or the weather!)for the way you’re feeling.
Understand that the anger, the depression, the frustration, the tension – whatever it is you’re feeling – is in you.
You can’t influence the weather; you can’t control the way someone else behaves towards you; but you can influence the way you react.
We talk about people “winding us up”, don’t we? As if we’re nothing more than marionettes or mechanical toys, under someone else’s power and control. But that’s an illusion – the only person who’s really in control of your emotions is you.
So the second step is to take ownership of your emotions and accept responsibility for the way you’re feeling.
Step Three: Never Identify With the Feeling
Although the feeling is in you, take care not to identify with it as if it’s part of your essential self. Don’t define yourself in terms of that feeling.
The negative feeling is a passing thing – it’s not part of your own identity. So try to avoid saying things like “I am depressed” or “I am anxious” – because when you say that, you’re labelling yourself – defining yourself – as being that feeling. And you’re not – you’re so much more than that.
This is tricky, because it’s the way we tend to speak about our feelings, but it’s very unhelpful. Try re-phrasing it by saying something like, “feelings of depression are there” or “I can sense some feelings of anxiety right now”.
I used to describe myself, and think of myself, as an anxious person – I’d often tell myself “I’m anxious” – but not any longer. I still sometimes have feelings of anxiety and I recognise them for what they are, but I no longer identify with them as part of me, because they’re not.
You’d be amazed how taking that simple step can strip negative feelings of their power over you – it’s a great way of taking back control.
Keep reminding yourself that these are transient feelings that will pass, like clouds in the sky. Just as when you’re feeling overjoyed, you know that feeling of ecstasy’s not going to last, don’t you? It’s the same with negative feelings – they come and they go.
So that’s the third step: avoid identifying with your negative feelings – remember, they’re not an essential part of you.
Step Four: Realise that when YOU Change, Everything Changes
We often think our happiness depends on something else or somebody else changing – if only the my stocks would rise, if only my boss would be nicer to me, if only my kids would behave, if only the sun would shine, if only my wife would stop nagging, if only Google’s Pandas and Penguins would go away……
Anthony de Mello puts it very well – he says it’s like we’re sick, so we go to the doctor and ask him to prescribe a medicine for our wife or our boss or our kids – then we’ll feel better. Sounds crazy, I know, but that’s often the way we think – how wonderful life would be, if only someone else would change.
But the way to wisdom and happiness is to recognise that you’re the one who needs to take the medicine, as it were.
You’re the only one who can recognise and deal with your negative emotions; you’re the one who needs to change.
So step four involves waking up to the fact that your happiness depends on you – realising that when you change, everything changes. And that rainy day doesn’t seem so bad after all…..
Over to you –
How do you deal with your negative emotions? If you have any tips you’d like to share, from your own personal experience, please leave a comment below – I’d love to hear from you.