New research indicates that people who habitually accept their negative emotions experience fewer negative emotions, which adds up to better psychological health.
By contrast, pressure to feel upbeat can make people feel downbeat.
In findings published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers tested the link between emotional acceptance and psychological health in more than 1,300 adults in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Denver, Colorado, metropolitan area.
The results suggest that people who commonly resist acknowledging their darkest emotions, or judge them harshly, can end up feeling more psychologically stressed, and those who generally allow such bleak feelings as sadness, disappointment and resentment to run their course reported fewer mood disorder symptoms than those who critique them or push them away, even after six months.
Three separate studies were conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, on various groups both in the lab and online, and factored in age, gender, socio-economic status and other demographic variables, according to a news release from UC Berkeley on Thursday.
In the first study, more than 1,000 participants filled out surveys rating how strongly they agreed with such statements as "I tell myself I shouldn't be feeling the way that I'm feeling." Those who, as a rule, did not feel bad about feeling bad showed higher levels of well-being than their less accepting peers.
Then, in a laboratory setting, more than 150 participants were tasked with delivering a three-minute videotaped speech to a panel of judges as part of a mock job application, touting their communication skills and other relevant qualifications. They were given two minutes to prepare. After completing the task, participants rated their emotions about the ordeal. As expected, the group that typically avoids negative feelings reported more distress than their more accepting peers.
In the final study, more than 200 people journaled about their most taxing experiences over a two-week period. When surveyed about their psychological health six months later, the diarists who typically avoided negative emotions reported more mood disorder symptoms than their nonjudgmental peers.
At this point, the researchers, including lead author Brett Ford, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, Canada, and senior author Iris Mauss, an associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, can only speculate on why people accepting joyless emotions can defuse them, like dark clouds passing swiftly in front of the sun and out of sight.
Next, they plan to look into such factors as culture and upbringing to better understand why some people are more accepting of emotional ups and downs than others.