Next time you try to squash your feelings of sadness, resentment or disappointment, remember this nugget of wisdom courtesy of science: accepting your gloomier moods could be better for your health, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Researchers found that pressuring yourself to be happy is linked to worse psychological well-being, while letting yourself feel those not-so-pleasant feelings can lead to better short and long term health.
Researchers from the University of Berkeley, University of Toronto and Northwestern University designed three experiments that involved more than 1,300 adults to examine the link between “emotional acceptance and psychological health,” as the press release put it.
In the first study, participants were asked to rate how strongly they agreed with statements like “I tell myself I shouldn’t be feeling the way I’m feeling,” according to the press release. Overall, people who weren’t as hard on themselves for feeling down demonstrated higher levels of well-being compared to their less-accepting peers.
In the second study, participants took part in a three-minute mock job interview and rated how they felt afterwards. To make it deliberately stressful, the researchers videotaped participants, gave them only two minutes to prepare and had the whole thing go down in front of a panel of people.
Participants who were more accepting of their understandable stress or anxiety seemed to cope with the situation better, while avoidant people reported feeling worse after the interview was over.
For the last study, participants were asked to journal about taxing experiences in their lives for two weeks. Six months later, researchers asked them about their mental health and found that the diarists who avoided their less-desirable emotions reported more “mood disorder symptoms,” according to the press release, compared to their peers who accepted their emotions.
In all of the studies, people who didn’t judge or suppress their negative feelings fared better. An interesting note is that in order to avoid bias in the results, the researchers controlled for major life stressors and socioeconomic status because “It’s easier to have an accepting attitude if you lead a pampered life,” senior study author Iris Mauss, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, said in the press release.
Mauss added that people who “habitually accept their negative emotions experience fewer negative emotions, which adds up to better psychological health.” She speculated that this might be because accepting negative emotions could mean less time actually thinking about them, whereas “if you’re constantly judging your emotions, the negativity can pile up,” she said in the press release.
It’s worth noting that this research isn’t the first of its kind: we recently wrote about a study that suggested feeling good is about letting yourself feel the emotions that are right for you, not the cheery ones that it can seem like society is pressuring you to feel. Happiness doesn’t follow a one-size-fits-all model.
Read more about the findings here.