Research shows experiencing a wide range of emotions won’t just improve your overall well-being. It will also make you smarter.
Here’s the most obvious sentence you’ll read today: Everyone would like to be happier, if only because happiness is good for you.
A little less obvious is how to actually quantify your level of happiness. Or how to quantify fulfillment. Or how to quantify overall life satisfaction. Even so, it should stand to reason that happier people simply experience more frequent feelings of happiness than less happy people.
According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, experiencing a variety of emotions on a regular basis leads to better overall mental (and physical) health. The key is balance: Experiencing moments of joy, gratitude, awe, and amusement, as well as moments of embarrassment, fear, stress, and even anger.
Do that, and as the researchers write:
Humans are notoriously quick to adapt to repeated exposure to a given positive emotional experience; positive experiences that are diverse may be more resistant to such extinction.
[We found that] the variety and relative abundance of the emotions people experience is an independent and integral component of the human emotional ecosystem that predicts both mental and physical health.
Or, to put it more simply, regularly experiencing a few lows makes you appreciate the occasional highs even more — and the practice you get from experiencing negative emotions makes it less likely those lows will feel quite so overwhelming.
Experiencing a Range of Emotions Can Make You Happier
Granted, that’s a pretty bold claim, one that has made subsequent researchers argue the above research is flawed. One wrote, “It appears that [the researchers’ findings] may reduce to little more than a set of computational and statistical artifacts.”
Academic sniping aside, though, the premise makes sense: Do everything you can to avoid experiencing negative emotions and when bad things inevitably happen, that moment can feel devastating.
Do everything you can to avoid situations that might feel stressful, or embarrassing, or a little scary, and then you’ll be less able to deal effectively with those emotions when they do occur. New research backs up that position. A 2021 study found that engaging in a variety of daily activities correlated with experiencing a broader range of emotions, and with it increased levels of happiness and life satisfaction.
Doing different things — regularly trying different things — naturally puts you in situations where you experience a broader range of emotions, both positive and negative.
Which helps you be better prepared to put those highs and the lows in perspective.
Experiencing a Range of Emotions Can Make You Smarter
And then there’s this: A 2018 study published in Journal of Experimental Psychology found that having the ability to put emotions in perspective can boost they called “wise reasoning,” which in simple terms is the ability to keep a relatively level head and make relatively smart decisions.
Again, makes sense. We all think better when we keep our cool and keep our emotions in check. Take me: I don’t make great decisions when I’m extremely stressed. Or worried. Or upset.
Or, on the flip side, really, really happy. (“Drinks are on me!”)
As the researchers write:
The positive association between [experiencing a diverse set of emotions] and wisdom-related characteristics occurred consistently for daily challenges, unresolved interpersonal conflicts, as well as other conflicts.
Because making better decisions is all about gaining — and maintaining — perspective.
And so is happiness.
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