Let Go of the Pursuit of Happiness: All Emotions Deserve Our Love

A MINDLESS OBSESSION WITH HAPPINESS 

Frequent experiences of positive affect (contentment, joy, excitement, calm) are beneficial for a variety of health and well-being outcomes. As such, happiness is a highly valued emotion in our culture; this is very evident by fact that we are often expected to put on a smiley face even when we are experiencing other emotions. However, happiness is not always appropriate and adaptive. For instance, happiness can also make us use heuristic shortcuts and stereotypes over critical and analytical thought processes. Moreover, happiness may not be appropriate when responding to others who are in distress and call for empathetic concern over positive contagion. Furthermore, studies have found that the pursuit of happiness almost always leads to dissatisfaction and distress when not obtained. Rather, it is best to engage in behaviors that have a high probability of leading to happiness (ex. building strong interpersonal relationships, volunteering, exercise), without holding onto the expectation of acquiring happiness.

On the other hand, subjectively unpleasant emotions can be evolutionary adaptive, and are important for survival when experienced to an optimal degree and in the appropriate situations. For instance, sadness and crying signals a need for helping behavior from social support networks. Moreover, anger signals a clear need for social reparations, and anxiety signals a fight or flight response to evade dangerous situations. Although these emotions may be uncomfortable, they must not be pushed aside when they can actually be of service to us. Therefore, it would be wise to listen and appreciate all of your emotions; express them to a healthy degree when appropriate. Likewise, it is important to understand that happiness can be beneficial, but not necessary to be put on a pedestal.

THE COSTS OF EMOTIONAL SUPPRESSION

Emotional suppression is an emotion-regulation strategy by which the person actively inhibits the expression of unwanted emotions. Chronic suppression of negative emotions is common in cultures where positive emotions are deemed the only appropriate emotion to exhibit in the public sphere. While this strategy may be adaptive in some contexts such as when completing tasks that require cognitive concentration, public speaking, building professional networks, and managing healthy degrees of anger during conflict resolution, it can be highly detrimental when employed long-term. For instance, emotional suppression can increase heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels, while decreasing memory function. In extreme cases of emotional dissociation (a coping strategy for trauma where the individual completely cuts themselves off from all emotions) can lead to an unfortunate myriad of after effects such as nightmares, intrusive images and thoughts, and auditory hallucinations. Furthermore, it can be dangerous to ignore adaptive emotions such as anxiety and anger in certain social and environmental situations. The chronic inability to feel negative emotions and use them for their advantages can lead to other detrimental coping strategies which help to blunt emotions, such as substance abuse, self-harm, and addiction. The culture of emotional suppression is truly killing us all. In a similar vein, the culture of “forced positive thinking” must be better informed of the costs of suppressing negative emotions and thoughts.

THE OTHER PATH: A MINDFUL WELCOMING OF EMOTIONS

In mindfulness meditation, we practice the skill of observing arising emotions with acceptance. Instead of pushing an undesired emotion away, we practice saying “oh hello there emotion,” while sensing our breath and body sensations. When we become skilled at doing this, we are then able to 1) listen to the presented emotions without judgement and criticism, 2) regulate these emotions using a healthful method if necessary (e.g. with mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, re-appraisal strategies) and 3) respond with appropriate actions that the emotion calls for (e.g. problem solving, evading dangerous situations, preventing anticipated problems and conflicts, communicating concerns). The more we practice, the more we are able to call up mindfulness skills in our everyday life off of the meditation cushion. As a more adaptive way to process and utilize emotions, mindfulness meditation is health protective of dissociative disorders, substance use disorders, and affective disorders. Better yet, it is extremely cost effective; requiring no fancy equipment but our breath and bodies themselves. Please see the meditation tab for mindfulness meditation guides!

References:

Bonanno, G. A., Papa, A., Lalande, K., Westphal, M., & Coifman, K. (2004). The importance of being flexible the ability to both enhance and suppress emotional expression predicts long-term adjustment. Psychological Science, 15(7), 482-487.References:

Campbell-Sills, L., Barlow, D. H., Brown, T. A., & Hofmann, S. G. (2006). Effects of suppression and acceptance on emotional responses of individuals with anxiety and mood disorders. Behaviour research and therapy, 44(9), 1251-1263.

Ford, B. Q., Dmitrieva, J. O., Heller, D., Chentsova-Dutton, Y., Grossmann, I., Tamir, M., … & Mauss, I. B. (2015). Culture shapes whether the pursuit of happiness predicts higher or lower well-being. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144(6), 1053.

Gross, J. J. (2002). Emotion regulation: Affective, cognitive, and social consequences. Psychophysiology, 39(3), 281-291.

Gross, J. J. (2001). Emotion regulation in adulthood: Timing is everything. Current directions in psychological science, 10(6), 214-219.

Gruber, J., Mauss, I. B., & Tamir, M. (2011). A dark side of happiness? How, when, and why happiness is not always good. Perspectives on Psychological Science6(3), 222-233.

Levitt, J. T., Brown, T. A., Orsillo, S. M., & Barlow, D. H. (2004). The effects of acceptance versus suppression of emotion on subjective and psychophysiological response to carbon dioxide challenge in patients with panic disorder. Behavior therapy, 35(4), 747-766.

Lyubomirsky, S., King, L. A., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131, 803-855.

Roberts, N. A., Levenson, R. W., & Gross, J. J. (2008). Cardiovascular costs of emotion suppression cross ethnic lines. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 70(1), 82-87.

Srivastava, S., Tamir, M., McGonigal, K. M., John, O. P., & Gross, J. J. (2009). The social costs of emotional suppression: a prospective study of the transition to college. Journal of personality and social psychology, 96(4), 883.

Tolerating Uncertainty and Transitions Between Asanas

Ambiguous life circumstances are common, and can be nerve racking. Therefore, tolerating uncertainty is an important life skill. However, it is not easy; studies have shown that when we make up endings to our stories, reward circuitry actually fires in our brains! Clearly, accepting uncertainty is not a built in skill within human neurobiology.

However, at the heart of vinyasa yoga practice, we learn to enjoy the transitions between poses; creating moment-to-moment body awareness in every movement rather than allowing the momentum of our bodies throw us into the different set postures. Similarly, living in transitory “limbo,” ex. the space between jobs, between partners, between homes, etc, can be extremely unnerving, which is why we wish to pop to the next stable place as ASAP.

However, by taking in this lesson from Vinyasa practice on the mat unto real life transitions, we are better prepared to appreciate these places for their limitless opportunities for growth and positive change. When we learn to become present for the transitions within our yoga practice, we learn to be present for life’s transitions off the mat as well.

References:

Brown, B. (2015). Rising strong: The reckoning. The rumble. The revolution. New York, NY: Penguin Random House.

Introverts: Remember Your Restorative Niches

Enjoyable activities performed in solitude, also known as “restorative niches,” are important for the introvert’s mental health, author Susan Cain explains in her book, Quiet.

To generally summarize, an introvert’s brain is much more sensitive to external stimuli than an extroverts; over-stimulation such as constant socializing is biologically draining for introverts. This doesn’t mean that introverts are necessarily shy or retain little social skills (in fact, many are quite the opposite); it simply means that for introverts, after leading a bunch of hyperactive children through a day at soccer camp or hosting that gong show of a weekend long family reunion, solitude is literally heavenly. It is important to not only have a restorative niche that you can always return to (ie. yoga, running, walking, dancing, meditation, painting, playing an instrument, reading, writing, etc.), but to actually plan to dedicate a good chunk of time to fit it into your schedule as well. Making time to renew your brain from over-stimulation is essential for an introvert’s mental health.

References:

Cain, S. (2012), Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.

The Brain that Changes

GOOD NEWS FOR ALL! BRAINS CAN CHANGE. The concept of neuroplasticity describes our brains’ ability to constantly mold itself – from the day we’re born, to the day we become moody teenagers, to adulthood and retirementNeural networks are constantly altering their connections in response to our experiences and conscious thought. The key principle of neuroplasticity explains: neurons that fire together wire together, and the way which we choose to think can alter those networks in our brain.

Mental illness can occurs when certain networks which don’t serve our well being become deeply overused and ingrained, along with underlying physiological imbalances. Therefore the notion of neuroplasticity is promising news in that we may rewire our brains for the better and alter our physiological chemistry back to balance. How? Well, stay tuned because this is what Cerebellum Yoga is all about.


HE KNEW ABOUT YOGIS WHO RELIEVED SUFFERING WITH MEDITATION AND WALKED BAREFOOT ACROSS COALS OR LAY DOWN ON NAILS.

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HE TRANSPOSED A SENSE OF WONDER FROM THE STREETS OF INDIA TO WESTERN NEUROLOGY,

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WHAT IS A TRANCE BUT A CLOSING DOWN OF THE GATES OF PAIN WITHIN US?

~ Norman Doidge (2007), The Brain that Changes Itself

References:

Doidge, N. (2007), The Brain that Changes Itself. Toronto, ON: Penguin Group.