It’s not all doom and gloom. When handled well, negative emotions can have proven benefits for our well-being. Listed below are some of the key findings from the research for how negative emotions can benefit you.
1. Sadness can help you pay more attention to detail
Where positive emotions signal that all is well in our immediate environment, negative emotions alert us that there are challenges or new stimuli that require our more focused attention. Sadness sends us the alert that something is not right and asks us to turn our attention to why this may be, what might be causing it, and what we need to do to fix it.
2. Anger can be a strong motivator to seek mediation
Anger is only followed by aggression in about ten percent of scenarios (Kassinove and Tafrate, 2002). Anger has been proven to encourage you to seek out active behaviors to address scenarios or people you’ve found problematic but doesn’t necessarily mean through confrontation or physical acts. Anger is a strong alert that encourages you to reflect on why someone might be behaving a certain way, and what you can do to restore peace.
3. Anxiety encourages new ways of approaching problems and challenges
When we feel anxious, we’ll try and do anything we can not to feel that way anymore. Anxiety is closely linked to our ‘fight or flight’ response, which allows your body to create energy quickly, ready for action. When faced with dangerous situations, anxiety will take over and encourage us to seek solutions quickly in order to escape danger (Biswas-Diener and Kashdan, 2014).
4. Guilt helps you change negative behavior
Guilt can be an exceptionally useful emotion. It’s essentially our moral compass and when it goes off, it’s a good indication that we may have behaved or said something hurtful to someone we care about. It’s like our internal system for punishing ourselves when we’ve done something wrong. People who are more prone to feeling guilty are less likely to steal, do drugs, resort to violence or drink and drive (Biswas-Diener and Kashdan, 2014).
5. Jealousy motivates you to work harder
Jealousy isn’t always malicious. Most of the time it’s what psychologists refer to as ‘benign envy’. Benign envy has been shown to encourage students to perform better on tests and in schoolwork, as seeing another student achieve a good grade made it more tangible for them to achieve too (van de Vien, Zeelenberg and Pieters, 2011). Next time you feel jealous because someone else has achieved a desired goal, try to see this as a good thing – it means the goal is totally achievable for you too.
TED Talk on ‘You aren’t at the mercy of your emotions — your brain creates them’ Lisa Feldman Barrett.