- Negative emotions and bad moods can sometimes be a good thing.
- It would be exhausting to be in high spirits all the time.
- Being grumpy could make us more trustworthy and better at detecting lies, studies have shown.
- Anxiety also has its benefits if channeled effectively.
If given the choice, we’d all probably rather be in a good mood than a bad one. But it doesn’t always work this way, and we’re all bound to feel angry, upset, and down some of the time.
Being on your best form all the time would be exhausting. However, we often have an unrealistic expectation of how often we should be positive, which means when we don’t feel upbeat, we assume something is wrong.
Psychologist David B. Feldman said in a blog post on Psychology Today that our culture seems obsessed with positivity.
“We tell people to ‘Have a nice day!’ when we depart their company,” he wrote. “When we see them in passing, we ask, ‘How are you?’ and are genuinely shocked if they tell us anything other than, ‘Great,’ ‘Good,’ or at least, ‘Fine.'”
Trying to be so positive all the time may backfire, not just by making us tired, but by skewing our view of the world.
One study, discussed in the Smarter Living New York Times newsletter, was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2006. Results showed that when participants were put in a good mood, they were more likely to believe people denying an alleged theft than those who were shown a depressing video.
“Negative mood increased judges’ scepticism towards the targets, and improved their accuracy in detecting deceptive communications,” the study reads. “While judges in a positive mood were more trusting and gullible.”
In other words, being grumpier may mean we’re more discerning.
Another study, also published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2005, found that being in a good mood can decrease our accuracy as eyewitnesses.
Anxiety is also thought of as inherently negative. But according to social worker and psychotherapist Amy Morin, anxiety is the natural reaction to a threat. It’s your body telling you that you need to do something because you’re in danger, which triggers the fight or flight response.
Once upon a time in our evolution, this would have served us well. But in modern day life it’s not so useful. Or is it?
As long as the anxiety isn’t an every day disorder that is taking over your life, it can be beneficial, according to Morin, and can be channelled into your work and used to motivate you, What you have to do is tell yourself objectively that you are anxious, but you can also perform well.
“That can take a lot of that subjectivity out of it, and stop the anxious feelings we get and the physiological response that leads to all of this catastrophic thinking and doom and gloom – I’m never going to succeed, it’s never going to go well,” Morin told Business Insider in a previous article. “It’s really about getting better control over your thoughts, and being more aware of how it affects your body.”
There’s something called the Yerkes-Dodson law, which suggests performance and arousal are directly related. And scientific research has shown that when autonomic arousal increases, so does performance, but only to a certain point.
“Too much anxiety can paralyse us, of course,” wrote Feldman. “Just like most negative emotions, the feeling itself isn’t necessarily bad, but too much of it can be.”
Feldman also argued that anger and guilt can be beneficial, as long as they are not misplaced or overwhelming. Ultimately, negative emotions are a part of our lives, and we do better by facing them head on instead of burying them. Also, they might not be as bad as you might think.
“Nobody is arguing that the secret to a fulfilling life is to feel angry, anxious, or guilty all the time,” said Feldman.
“Ultimately, in order to lead a good life, we must learn how to deal with all our emotions, not just the happy ones. And, it’s good to know that even feeling bad can sometimes work in our favour.”