Good news: There is an upside to feeling down.
In a movement that some experts are calling “the second wave of positive psychology,” many psychologists are recognizing that negative feelings that make us uncomfortable or unhappy may sometimes be good for us. If we pay attention to them, they can help us identify what is wrong in our life and motivate us to seek change. Research even shows that people who have negative thoughts along with positive ones are healthier.
This is a response to the approach popular since the late 1990s, when the field of positive psychology arose, emphasizing upbeat emotions and traits with the goal that people should flourish, not simply be free of distress. Thousands of research studies, books and magazine articles were published to help people understand how to use the power of the positive to be happier.
Think of negative feelings “like a baby’s cry,” says Frank McAndrew, a professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. “It’s unpleasant and aversive, but it will motivate you to do something that is good.”