When’s the last time you were told to just “be happy”? Did it work? All too often, the feeling of happiness feels far away, unreachable—but what if that’s because we’re ignoring some important bits along the way? Here’s a refreshing tool we can all use to discover our own paths to real, sustainable happiness!

This mindset of getting back into our “happy state” may seem counterintuitive, but I promise, it works!

Image: Person jumping next to a yellow wall, holding an umbrella

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Of all the feelings and emotions we have, why is happiness the one that we focus on the most?

Have you ever thought about that? Every day, we’re told to strive for the absolute pinnacle of elatedness—the moment of pure unencumbered joy that makes you feel like you’re on a high. Heck, the “pursuit of happiness” is even built into the framework of the U.S. government. But when that moment of joy goes away or we don’t happen to reach it that day, we can start to feel like we’ve failed; that something’s wrong with us.

We’re basically setting ourselves up to fail from the start.

It’s important to remember that happiness, like anger or anxiety, is a fleeting emotion. It isn’t meant to be in our lives every single second of the day. Just like you aren’t always feeling confused or amused, maintaining the feeling of happiness all the time simply isn’t natural for us. 

Every one of our emotions, no matter how uncomfortable, is important in helping us find our way back to equilibrium: to a place of contentment that’s actually sustainable day to day. Getting to know these emotions that pop up and being able to realize what they’re telling you about your life is a critical skill—one that I think any of us can master to live a better, more positive life.

Molly Countermine, Ph.D. is an associate teaching professor of human development and family studies at Penn State University who sought out this skill herself. By sitting in on one of her colleagues’ classes after feeling like she just couldn’t be happy, she discovered that there was, in fact, no such thing as a “bad emotion.” Everything she was feeling was pointing to something in her life that needed attention, something that could be blocking her path to “happiness.”

She explains this idea perfectly in her TEDx Talk, Life Isn’t Supposed to be Good… All the Time! Here’s Dr. Countermine:

To connect with Molly, give her a follow on Instagram! And for more TEDx Talks, take a gander through their library or check out some of our favorites at this link.

“Your anger? It’s telling you where you feel powerless. Your anxiety? It’s telling you that something in your life is off balance. Your fear? It’s telling you what you care about. Your feelings aren’t random, they’re messengers… let them speak to you and tell you what you really need.” —Brianna Wiest

What a novel way of thinking about our emotions, right? Depending on what culture you were raised in, there are a lot of feelings that you’ve probably been told to keep locked up. “Don’t cry,” “don’t get angry,” “stop being so anxious.” Whatever it is, we try to ignore it, to move on and to forget that it’s there, but it always ends up returning.

So, what would happen if we just sat with that emotion a bit?

Here are a few things you can do whenever any negative (or positive) emotions bubble up:

Hit pause. Acknowledge and validate that you’re feeling this feeling—say hello!—but don’t act on it quite yet. This can be a quick process: taking a deep breath, asking yourself what you’re feeling and why, or maybe taking yourself for a short walk around the block. Sitting with your emotion and accepting it can help you to get to know it and have it work in your favor.

Pay attention to what the triggers around your emotions are. Certain situations are just a recipe for a particular emotion to rise in us, but knowing about them and their effect on us can help us manage, prepare, and thrive through our inevitable emotions in the future. Does watching plants grow bring you immense joy? Bring more of that into your life! Feeling anxious about getting on a plane? Try bringing something that comforts you. 2

Write it down! I know, I know, everyone tells us to journal. But simply taking a pen when you’re feeling upset and writing down that you’re upset and why in the moment can be helpful! It allows us to see the emotion as it is, right in front of us.

If you’d like to dive in deeper about the benefits of being mindful of our thoughts, check out this article from our library next!

Every one of your emotions is important and valid—they’re telling you about your life and what you can do to make it better!

And to discover more ways that you can start seeing your emotions in a new light, I highly suggest these articles:

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As always, my friend, stay open to new possibilities! While we can’t always control our emotions, we can always decide how we’re going to react to them.

  • Sam

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  1. TEDx Talks. “Life Isn’t Supposed to Be Good… All the Time | Molly Countermine | TEDxPSU.” YouTube, 9 Mar. 2021, www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oy9LWrRPIo. Accessed 15 Apr. 2021.
  2. Bariso, Justin. “7 Strategies Emotionally Intelligent People Use to Keep Their Feelings under Control.” Inc.com, Inc., 5 Nov. 2018, www.inc.com/justin-bariso/7-simple-strategies-that-will-help-you-manage-your-emotions.html. Accessed 15 Apr. 2021.

Sam has written and edited hundreds of articles since joining the EWC team in 2016. She writes about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world and the simple joys in life! Outside of the EWC office, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and taster of cheeses.