This is the flip side of emotional pain, says Social Scientist Dr Ali Walker

Our negative emotions have so much to teach us and play a vital role in our lives – just like happiness does.

In a world where happiness is our aim, emotions like anger, boredom and sadness can become the enemy.

According to Social Scientist Dr Ali Walker, we often label these as ‘negative’ or ‘painful’ emotions and do everything we can to avoid and numb them.

“We need to appreciate that life is full of so many moments,” she says. “It’s filled with boredom, and anger, and guilt, and regret and embarrassment and so we need a narrative that encompasses all of these emotions, not just this cult of happiness.”

Drop the judgement

The key is not to view emotions as positive or negative, but instead to see them all as having a job to do. “We judge ourselves for these negative emotions because of this narrative that we need to be happy and optimistic all the time,” Dr Walker says.

If we think about a car, there are some parts of the car that are glossy and shiny, like the sound system, the paint job and the leather seats. There are also some parts of the car that are hidden away and dirty, but still extremely important. In the car, we don’t judge the engine or the petrol tank because we know that they have a key role to play in the functioning of the car.

It’s the same as our emotional life – all the emotions have a role to play.

“If we think about anger, that tells us that someone is potentially trying to take advantage of us,” Dr Walker says.

“Regret helps us plan for the future so we don’t make the same bad decisions again, fear can protect us from danger, embarrassment can keep us socially connected because then we have a barometer of what is acceptable in society, and boredom can lead to creativity and new ideas.”

“It’s all about finding the lesson in each emotion and seeing what they can teach us, because every emotion has evolved and they all have an important role to play,” she says.

Catch up on the full episode of The House of Wellness TV show to see more from Jo, Ed, and the team.