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'Positive' vs 'Negative' emotions

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I wanted to discuss this particular topic because I feel people misunderstand emotions, both positive and negative, and their source in the human brain.  I will say now that if you don't believe that evolution is a thing then there may be nothing for us to debate as this is written from the basic standpoint that we are evolved beings.

I often see people on this forum writing thing such as "If we could all just love each other" or "If only people could see the truth, joy and happiness is the key" etc.  The problem with this thinking is that emotions don't sit as individual entities but rather as a complex mix.  Some part of love is jealousy, some part of anger is caring and so on.  They cannot exist on their own and the complex interplay between positive and negative emotions is absolutely vital for our survival.  It is with this in mind that I would postulate that such a thing as a negative or positive emotion does not exist at all, that they are all valid and useful to us in some way.

Psychology Today has a great article that expresses some of what I'm trying to say here:




No one questions the value of feeling good. In fact, it seems that for the past 20 years, everyone in America has been on a relentless quest for a blue-sky state of mind, in pursuit of permanent residence on the spectrum between contentment and ecstasy.

Feeling bad is another matter entirely. Emotions that generate unpleasant feelings have been called sins (wrath, envy), shunned in polite interaction (jealousy, frustration), or identified as unhealthy (sadness, shame). We suppress them, medicate them, and berate ourselves for feeling them.

Because such feelings are aversive, they are often called "negative" emotions, although "negative" is a misnomer. Emotions are not inherently positive or negative. They are distinguished by much more than whether they feel good or bad. Beneath the surface, every emotion orchestrates a complex suite of changes in motivation, physiology, attention, perception, beliefs, and behaviors: sweating, laughing, desiring revenge, becoming optimistic, summoning specific memories. Each component of every emotion has a critical job to do—whether it's preparing us to move toward what we want (anger), urging us to improve our standing (envy), or allowing us to undo a social gaffe (embarrassment).

We have the wrong idea about emotions. They're very rational; they're means to help us achieve goals important to us, tools carved by eons of human experience that work beyond conscious awareness to direct us where we need to go. They identify trouble or opportunity and suggest methods of repair or gain. They are instruments of survival; in fact, we would have vanished long ago without them.

Negative emotions are not only crucial to our existence but also—ironically—to feeling good. To live optimally in the world and endure its challenges, it's necessary to engage the full range of psychological states we've inherited as humans.


Trying to deny or suppress negative emotions can end up making you feel worse in the long run as they exist to help you survive.  'Positive' emotions can have hugely detrimental effects on people in exactly the same way as negative ones.  If you were to love everyone and feel happy 100% of the time then you, as a human being, would lack the motivation to do anything.  Why change anything, ever, if you're always happy no matter what? If you had love in your heart for everyone and everything, at all times, you would be paralysed every time it came to making a difficult moral choice or surviving a dangerous encounter with another individual.

So if we cannot, and should not, eliminate 'negative' emotions and if they are in fact as important as the 'positive' ones then why do our societies continue to deny them, label them as 'evil' or 'harmful' and dismiss those that feel them more keenly than others as somehow 'ill' or 'mentally retarded'? It seems to me that if you hold certain emotions as 'virtues' and others as 'bad influences' you are doing yourself and the rest of humanity a disservice.  What we as a species should be looking at is why the extremes of these emotions cause problems and what can be done for those who feel such extremes? If indeed we should do anything at all...

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