I've been contemplating happiness in particular recently and how it relates to mindfulness. Mindfulness being the ability to let thoughts come and go without judgement in order to fully experience the present moment. Happiness is feeling positive emotions like pride, joy and excitement. But what about those other emotions like sadness, sympathy, anger and boredom? Are they useful too?
Our children are close enough in age that they play together a lot. One of the strategies we have when they get into an argument is to ask them individually how they are feeling. The one who is crying or arguing typically feels frustrated or angry for something distantly related to the situation at hand. By taking time away from the situation to get to the bottom of how they are feeling and why, we uncover some interesting information.
The pursuit of happiness is not always the most beneficial end. Instead, we seek to understand what is being felt and how as a family we can "help the situation" rather than "hurt the situation". Sometimes being angry is the right thing to do, if a child witnesses someone else stomping on a bug or if the entire class isn't listening and she can't hear the teacher. Sometimes being able to identify sadness when friends don't invite her to play on the playground is more important than just trying to be happy all the time.
I agree with author Dodd Kashdan when he says "In certain situations, what seems to be intuitively good is unhelpful and what seems to be intuitively bad is helpful."
Raising our kids to be mindful of their feelings has taught us, the adults, as well, and we all benefit from being able to consciously look at how we address difficult situations. We often talk about how we could have acted differently to 'help the situation' and reasons for not doing so. Once in awhile our 'deep' conversations are sprinkled with off the wall comments like "In Finding Nemo, what was the dentist doing to that guy anyway to make him jump like that?". As children tend to go into a conversation only as deep as they want before taking a right turn.
Still, by taking the time to ask about feelings and uncover what they are and why they might be showing themselves, we're always learning about each other and more specifically ourselves.
If you're interested in digging deeper into the upside of those elusive "negative emotions", I encourage you to pick up the book "The Upside to Your Dark Side" by Todd Kashdan. He invites readers to take a closer look in order to access the full range of your emotions. I found the book refreshing in the current sea of books and articles focusing all the attention on the importance of being happy.