Home » Happiness Tip: Lean Into Difficult Emotions

Happiness Tip: Lean Into Difficult Emotions

“What do you do when you feel sad?” people often ask me.

(Some even ask, “Do you ever get sad?”) Yes, OF COURSE I feel sadness, anger, anxiety — sometimes downright misery — just like everyone else.

Leading a joyful life does NOT mean always trying to be happy. At the same time, I’m not really one for rumination. Meaning: I make an effort to feel my feelings—often deeply—and then, if the feelings are negative, I move on. (Did you know that most strong emotions last only 90 seconds if you accept them?) There are a host of benefits to not overthinking things; check out my post on Positively Positive for more about what to do when we’re unhappy.

Take Action: ACCEPT difficult feelings that arise for you. The key is not to deny what we are feeling, but rather to lean into our feelings, even if they are painful. Take a moment to be mindful and narrate: I’m feeling anxious right now, or This situation is making me tense. Hang in there with unpleasant feelings at least long enough to acknowledge them.

See if you can objectify your feelings a little bit: where in your body to you feel them? Do they
have a color? A texture? A shape?

Join the Discussion: Does this help your negative feelings dissipate? Share in the comments below!


  1. Mamabear says:

    I’d like to see more on this “lean in” technique. I try to be compassionate towards my anxiety feelings, acknowledge and accept them, yet I still find certain topics, and social situations such as in depth discussions with strangers, so unsettling that I get insomnia if they occur too late in the day (i.e. a job conversation with my kids’ teacher yesterday – a stressful topic and a stressful social situation – at 5 PM pickup left me unable to sleep until midnight!) Tuning into the body’s signs of emotional stress seems like a good idea that I don’t do enough of. Are there other tips for dissipating negative emotions/compartmentalizing? I also do self hypnosis at bedtime, which has worked wonders.

  2. jess says:

    Is there a way to help kids with this? My 7 year old has been having massive tantrums where she pretty much checks out mentally. They generally happen because she doesn’t like getting a ‘no’ or because she wants ‘more’ of something. We are trying really hard to work with her through them, but sometimes it seems like when we try to talk about her feeling frustrated, sad, angry, it just feeds into further rage. Definitely not 90 seconds.

    • Have you thought about taking one of my on-demand online classes? I offer one about emotion coaching and fostering emotional intelligence that might be a big help for you. You will probably be better served with her to work on preventing the tantrums (and processing them afterwards) than to try to emotion coach her DURING one, which won’t be effective…

  3. idagatwood says:

    That’s interesting Christine, I didn’t know a sad feeling only lasted 90 seconds, if you accept them. I once had a therapist tell me to feel that feeling. It really helps. Thank you.
    Great post.

  4. rose m. says:

    Sometimes I feel like I did lean in to the feeling but also tried not to dwell on it, only to have the feeling spring back in another situation. Is there something more we can do when it seems to be more than a 90 second fix? Like can you sit with it in a healthy way somewhat longer in order to make sure the feeling was fully expressed?

  5. Elizabeth says:

    What about bad feelings for very real reasons? My father passed away at the end of June, and if I let myself lean into the pain I’m scared I’ll never get out. I’ve only let myself really feel the pain a handful of times…The rest of the time I completely avoid thinking about my dad, pretending he’s still around, it seems like the only way I can stay standing and take care of my young daughter without falling apart. Is there any way to work through the feelings without getting swallowed in them?

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