On happiness and embracing negativity

Oli Barrett gives a good summary of In the Wild a Channel 4 conference on the theme of happiness. This description of Nick Baylis‘s contribution caught my eye:

Nick’s main priority was to set straight a few minsconceptions, the first being the myth that we are somehow, as humans, hardwired to prioritize happiness. Nonsense, he says (or more accurately, a richer word beginning with B). We are hardwired to improve our relationship with life , that is to say ‘to get better at living life.’ One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to view emotions like anger, shame and loneliness as our enemy, something to be banished, to be drenched with booze. In fact these (positive, not ‘negative’ emotions) are our rocket fuel, and by learning to ride them, we can achieve incredible things.

This resonates with me. First, I like the notion of obliquity so that trying to be happy feels like a dodgy strategy. Secondly, in the course of years of therapy, I’ve realised more and more that being willing to embrace supposed negative emotions can be remarkably liberating. I mean embrace, rather than “act on”, by the way. Nick names shame, and that’s a very potent one. I would add that, for me, sadness is a good one to accept. I don’t feel sad very often, and when I do it feels a blessed relief. I think that’s why I love Elgar’s Cello Concerto.

(Disclosure: I’m part of Policy Unplugged which organised the event, thoughI wasn’t there myself)

UPDATE On a tangentially related note, Andrew Rixon enthuses about a “Postive No”

1 thought on “On happiness and embracing negativity

  1. Robert Paterson


    And more – what is the meaning of life? I am connecting to this as an answer – The purpose of life is to fulfill its natural design and progression.

    As you say we have to find our best place in nature and in our own nature. Going through the fire seems to be a way of finding this – I wonder if we try hard to avoid pain and struggle do we then avoid the opportunity to grow in to our potential?

    This weekend I was part of a 400k bike ride in the worst of conditions – it was hell. BUT for the 35 riders, it was a furnace where they discovered something about who they were and they grew like bamboo – what made it all so great was the sense of support that each received in their many moments of despair and doubt – would they give up?

    There was the remarkable point on the 3rd and worst day – when it was clear that they would rather die – really – than give up – they found a person inside themselves that their comfy day to day existence hid from them. I think it was the combination of the terrible circumstances and the closeness of the group that produced this result.

    I wonder – is organizational, family, group life too safe? Too comfy?

    More on this at reboot9


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