Positive vs Negative Emotions

Emotion chart
How are you feeling today? Albert Ellis Institute Emotion Chart

“The word ‘happiness’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.” Carl Jung.

We all want to experience positive emotions. We strive to be happier and experience joy, excitement and pleasure in our lives. As an inspirational speaker, the aim of my talk is to challenge the audience to think differently about their situation and also to give them the tools to do so. One of my core messages is that it is powerful to be positive, although it is just as important to be rational and realistic. We cannot live in a “cotton wool” world where everything works out exactly the way we want it to. Not everyone will like us or support us in what we do.

We need to understand that negative emotions can be unhealthy or healthy. It is unrealistic to feel happy and positive all the time. Can you honestly say that you were thrilled to get your last traffic fine? Certainly we can strive for happiness, but we need to tolerate the negative emotions and look at ways of changing unhealthy negative emotions to healthier ones.

Depression Sadness
Anxiety Nervousness
Guilt Regret/Disappointment
Unhealthy anger/enraged Frustration/irritation


Unhealthy negative emotions stop us from reaching our goals and interfere in our relationships. They are often the motivation to enter therapy. Key to changing an unhealthy negative emotion to a healthier one is to consider this question:

How can I change my thoughts about this situation to change my (anxiety) to (nervousness)?”

A challenge to changing our emotional experience is that we assume that we need to move from one extreme to the next. It is an unrealistic goal to change your anxiety to complete calmness. Negative emotions (in the healthy form) are there to guide us, teach us lessons and make changes in our lives. Anxiety can limit us and cause significant distress. However, low levels of anxiety (or nervousness/apprehension) can motivate us be more productive and protect us from potential danger.

The next time you experience an unhealthy negative emotion that causes you distress, consider how to change it to a healthier one. Remember that it is okay to feel sad, disappointed or frustrated at times. Strive to be happy but know that we cannot always control our situation – we can control the way we think about that situation!


Note: The concepts in this blog post are based on Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy.