We all go through a wide range of emotions on a daily basis.
Some emotions, like happiness and excitement, light us up—while others like frustration and anger can engulf us in a negative mood. Emotions are powerful tools that allow us to experience the highs and lows of life and give us important intuitive clues.
We all want to experience joy, happiness, excitement, and peace more frequently than sadness, frustration, fear, or anger. But we are human beings and life, as we all know, is a roller coaster of emotions. Negative feelings are inevitable. We get thrown off track and feel lost at times, but the great thing about being human is that we can choose how we want to interpret our emotions. It’s easy to have something bad happen to us and then say, “Ugh, today sucks.” But by uttering these words you quickly start to see all of the things that “suck” about your life and the world as a whole. When bad things happen it is perfectly valid to tell yourself that life sucks and things never go your way—but there are other, more productive ways to interpret our day-to-day happenings and circumstances.
I had my own experience with this recently. I went to the most beautiful wedding of one of my closest friends at The Ritz-Carlton in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The Ritz was pristine, the water was clear blue and green, the wedding was on the beach, and the ceremony incorporated so many beautiful and devotional rituals that melted my heart. The love that the bride and groom shared for each other transcended what I had known of love from a human experience to the realm of the divine. I was so inspired and full of love, yet something felt strange within me. I really didn’t want to explore this odd feeling, so I pushed it down and continued to bask in the beauty and love of the celebration.
As I was flying home, the movie Inside Out began playing. Inside Out is about the emotions that make up the personality of an 11-year-old girl named Riley. Anger, fear, sadness, joy, and disgust are the dominant emotions in her life and each one comes out in response to the events of Riley’s day, just as they do in our lives. Anger keeps Riley from being forced to do things that she doesn’t want to do. Fear protects Riley from getting hurt and taking risks. Disgust makes sure that Riley looks cool by rejecting anything that she thinks is strange or odd. Joy keeps Riley happy, interested, excited, and positive, while sadness helps Riley keep a balanced perspective on life, and plays an interesting role in the creation of joy.
After watching this beautiful movie and taking in the message of the power of all of the emotions—especially sadness—and their ability to over time cultivate joy, I was really touched. Without sadness there is no joy. All negative emotions have something to show us, and when we can get past a negative emotion, a positive emotion is right around the corner.
I started to look at my own uncomfortable feeling that I didn’t want to deal with. It was hard, but I identified that I was feeling all alone, as I was one of the few people at the wedding who was not married or with a date. Acknowledging my feelings allowed me to further explore my life and better understand how I was holding myself back from relationships. Taking the time to process my emotions helped me see how much love is in my heart, and encouraged me to make changes to be more open to happiness and love in my life.
So, how do we bounce back from adverse emotions, or better yet—how do we see them as opportunities? These five steps have always helped me turn my negative experiences into positive ones, and they may help you do the same:
1. Be with what you are experiencing.
It takes time to allow sadness to pass. The magic is in being with our experience of sadness. By avoiding or pushing our negative emotions away, we’re actually enhancing the hold and grip they have on us. But if we take some time to be with the negative emotion, we can actually learn from it and transform it into something positive.
2. Take a deep breath and be compassionate toward yourself.
Sadness can hurt and can come from something bad or ugly happening. We are vulnerable when we are sad and that’s OK. Beating yourself up for feeling sad, hurt, upset, etc. is only harming yourself. So practice self-compassion and allow yourself to feel what you are feeling.
3. Come up with an empowering mantra or saying that helps you feel good.
When we have a bad experience or something sad, hurtful, upsetting, or depressing happens, we may, temporarily, stop seeing the larger picture or get too attached to certain outcomes. If you can create an empowering reason for why you are experiencing what you are experiencing, then it will be much easier to see new perspectives and move past what you are feeling.
4. Talk it out.
Lean on your friends and family members during tough times. Share what you are experiencing with someone who you feel understands you and has compassion for you—you’ll feel a whole lot better.
5. Trust that you will make it through.
Withdrawing from life only makes us feel worse about ourselves or our situations. I know that it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel sometimes, but continuing to partake in your normal routine when you are feeling sad is one of the greatest things that you can do for yourself.
Michael Forman is a native of Bronx, New York, and has lived in New York City for almost his entire life. He is the executive farm director of Pure Love Organic Farms, an organic, urban farm that he and three other friends created in 2012 from a former garbage dump site. Michael also works as the North American account manager for Totally Green in the sustainable technologies field.