Negative Emotions: Can Positivity Be Toxic?

Claudia Aronowitz

Negative emotions are actually vital to our happiness and wellbeing.


Life is a complicated, challenging, amazing and fulfilling journey. The pandemic has certainly shown us how uncertain life can be.

The idea that we are supposed to have a happy and fulfilling life has become a sort of cultural movement during the past few years that in many cases has been taken to the extreme. Instead of being helpful it has become an idealistic pressure that is making us unhappy.

We are all imperfect.

We have fantastic strengths and skills but we also have imperfections and things that we dislike about ourselves. We have a full range of emotions, both positive and negative, that are part of how we feel. In her book Emotional Agility Susan David talks about how negativity is normal. She explains that we have seven basic emotions: joy, anger, sadness, fear, surprise, contempt and disgust. Five of them are not very comfortable!

Another leader in positive psychology, Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, explains how the pursuit of a good life is not about achieving a constant feeling of happiness and fulfilment but rather is about being happier and more fulfilled.

Attempting to minimize or ignore our uncomfortable thoughts and negative emotions only serves to amplify them. Can you remember a time when you were feeling frustrated, angry or upset and you kept telling yourself that you should not feel that way or that you should be more grateful but that only made you feel worse?

This happens because what we pay attention to is amplified. Pretending to be happy all of the time raises impossible expectations and deprives us of the benefits of negative emotions. 

Our feelings teach us things about ourselves, our values and our needs. 

“It’s about holding those emotions and thoughts loosely, facing them courageously and compassionately, and then moving past them to make big things happen in your life.”  ~ Susan David, Emotional Agility

The first step is about showing empathy and appreciation to ourselves, for our amazing qualities and positive feelings as well as our negative, more difficult feelings. 

Its about loving ourselves fully. 

“We can’t change ourselves or our circumstances until we accept what exists right now. Acceptance is a prerequisite for change. We still don’t like the things we don’t like – we just cease to be at war with them. Once the war is over, change can begin.” ~ Susan David

The next step is about choosing to choose, not how we feel but how we perceive our reality and the behaviours and actions we take. These choices are what we have control over.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~ Viktor Frankl

Lifes beauty is inseparable from its fragility. Our virtues are inseparable from our imperfections. Our positive feelings are inseparable from our negative feelings.

  • Learn to accept and be uncomfortable with whatever feelings come up. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
  • Ask yourself, what is the purpose of this emotion? What is it telling me? What does it give me? What is buried beneath that sadness, frustration or joy?
  • Get to know yourself. Your strengths, your qualities, your values, your needs AND your imperfections.
  • Accept and love yourself. From that place of acceptance we change and grow.
  • Learn to savour the small moments in life.
  • Befriend change and uncertainty and find control in the choices you do have. Remember that change is the only constant thing in life.
  • Create habits of self-care that work for you. It might be a walk in nature, physical exercise, a gratitude journal or a connection with friends and family. 

It’s time to change our pursuit of eternal happiness into a journey of acceptance, self-love and willingness to be in the moment with what we have.

Life will bring us moments of pain and heartbreak and of joy and happiness. A fulfilling and happier life is in the balance of learning from the moments of pain and being fully present in the moments of joy.


This article was first published on Charity Village on May 13, 2021.

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About Claudia Aronowitz
As a highly trained, certified coach and mediator, I take pride in helping others find clarity and acceptance of who they are. I will propel you to move forward into taking responsibility and leadership of your life and relationships—both personal and professional. With compassion and a straightforward approach, I will help you discover new insight and uncover opportunities to use your unique voice. From there you can create the life and relationships that you desire and find fulfillment and joy in life’s challenging journey. Learn More About Claudia >>

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