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You can’t feel good if you’re not willing to feel bad. This is among the truest and least fun things there is.

See, your emotions are like a sound wave, oscillating above and below a “neutral” state. When we experience something that sucks, we naturally want to avoid feeling terrible so we end up distracting ourselves from what’s happening or just shut down to avoid feeling our feelings. We basically turn down the volume on our emotions.

Problem is, this turns down the volume on all our emotions. We end up unable to feel the positive ones as well. We are unable to feel true happiness and joy if we’re not willing to feel the depths of our despair and anger.

Highly scientific chart demonstrating emotions with a limited range (dotted) and with a wider range (solid).

I first experienced this in my teen years when my mother died. I was unable to handle my grief so I shoved it deep down inside me. Later, I would recognize this period as shock and it lasted about a year. During that time, I carried on a publicly ok life. I went to school, played in the orchestra, and did my work. I laughed with friends and cried sometimes but everything felt shallow. I felt like I was listening to my life with my head wrapped up in a wool scarf. I could hear, but everything was muffled. Fortunately for me, a skilled counselor and friend eventually sat me down and got me to acknowledge and fully feel the grief I’d locked away. I hated it and it was painful, but somehow at the same time it felt good to release it. It was only afterwards that I realized I also hadn’t felt any sense of lightness or real happiness for a long time. I was once again able to belly-laugh as well as heave out sobs and rage about injustice. I had finally opened up the volume on my emotions and was able to experience them all again. That was a huge relief.

We have to learn how to have difficult conversations and confront whatever we’re avoiding, to be willing to experience what’s hard as well as what’s easy. We can’t turn down the volume on our emotions. It’s like turning down the volume on life. We have to be willing to feel bad if we want to feel good.

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