Aren’t All Emotions Good?


Feelings Wordle


No, they’re not, not all the time, and not just anytime.

Most negative emotions are not good too much of the time. Yes, we need negative emotions, but we need them much less than we think we do, and certainly far less than we have been conditioned to respond with them.

People are too careless with negative emotions. They increase your cortisol, and you die sooner, and get sick easier.

I’m here to argue the case for the importance of positive emotions. We need many, many more of them, and we need them more pervasively and permanently. Positive emotions are essential to health, fitness, and optimal living.

You can have many more of them by not waiting for the world around you to give them to you; make the decision to give them to yourself!

They are far more effective and healthy than negative emotions most all of the time. As an evolving species, we face fewer and fewer sabre tooth tigers, and those we do, in whatever shape they come, are better escaped or defeated by smoother, slicker, more clever means than the reptilian fight/flight that we are evolving from.

Learn to move into a “calm/connect” response –where the real power is.

We are not nearly as good at positive emotions as we are at negative emotions.

Consider how lightning fast you get to the emotions of upset or anger or anxiety! Can you get that fast to gratitude or love or joy? Probably not. If we can get to anger or upset with lightning speed, we can rehearse and train ourselves to get to joy just as surely.

We learned to get to anger, we can learn to get to joy. As evolutionarily predisposed as you are to anger, you are also have within you the capacity for joy, great, great joy! It is a part of your nature.

But you have to rehearse your part and that is to feel them. There are plenty of reasons to have them; it is your part to decide you want and to feel them. Practice feeling positive emotion. All day long feel joy.

Every chance you get, go to joy. Start with a little and then increase the amount, but rehearse joy.

If you have a problem on your mind, use it as a cue to go to joy. Think of the problem, then feel joy. Hard at first, but very possible to learn to do. Then start to look around for what gives you joy and feel joy 100 times a day, every day for a week. Then do it for a month and see what happens.

You can build routes of joy in your brain that you go to instantly, that you can stay there for a while and that you can increase whenever you want to.

But you have to rehearse positive emotion to develop positive emotional muscle.

© Dr. William K. Larkin 


About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin
  • James

    NeuroPositive Coach Blog Post One

    James Beeman

    Dr. Donald Johnson & Dr. William Larkin

    Applied Neuroscience Institute

    October 12, 2015


    This post is organized into four sections: 1) a brief discussion of
    key insights are discussed that stood out to the student in the reading of this
    week’s literature, 2) specific actions that the student took as a result of
    reading this material are discussed, 3) potential areas of future application
    of this information for this student are outlined, and 4) conclusions are


    After reading the first chapter of Growing
    the Positive Mind (Larkin, 2008) a clearer understanding emerged of how
    focusing one’s attention on positive emotions can lead to greater health and
    wellness. Being relatively new to the theories of positive psychology, it was
    insightful for this student to realize how so many psychological theories focus
    on the negative emotions that individuals experience and the resulting thoughts
    and actions that these same individual’s take.

    One of the key insights gleaned from Frederickson’s work was the
    distinction of the four emotions of joy, interest, content, and love and the
    distinction that she proposes within positive emotions of the results not
    simply being actions, but thought-action repertoires. Meaning to say, that
    one’s of emotion is internal and external, not merely external.

    Additionally, another key insight from Frederickson’s work was that
    how positive emotional internal experiences over time not only have an
    short-term impact, but also a long-term one. Meaning to say, these positive
    experiences are like compound, rather than simple interest, in terms of their
    benefits. This proposal aligns well with Larkin’s first promise.


    Upon reading this week’s literature
    and gleaning the insights discussed above, this student daily assessed his
    UpSpiral and EmotionalScore and gradually saw and increase in his score—moving from 72 to 79 over the course of 7 days. The internal experience of doing this exercise enabled the student to experience more flow at work and to feel more positive about the results that he is getting as he continues to build his coaching practice.

    Additionally, putting aside negative news broadcasts enabled the student to put more focus on the positive things in his life—specifically, his relationships with coworkers, family, and people in different social groups. The student found himself to be more present and attentive to what was going on in the moment, instead of being dissatisfied with his life or thinking about something unrelated to what was in front of him.

    Finally, the student decided to move
    forward with a diet and exercise routine that he had been putting off for a
    number of months. A stronger sense of wellbeing after exercising was also

    Future Applications

    The student is facing internal challenges
    as he continues to grow his coaching practice and he would like to begin
    incorporating some of these ideas to fend off the student’s limiting belief of
    being a poor public speaker. Instead, the student would like to focus on ways
    to become a more engaging public speaker and trainer, slowly over time: with
    visualization, regular practice, feedback, and adjustments to performance.


    In summary, the student gleaned much information related to positive psychological theories proposed by Frederickson and Larkin, applied some of these theories to his life, and identified potential areas for future application of this valuable information. The main insight from this entire week has been the importance that we all have freedom to choose emotions, thoughts, and actions that lead to life or lead to death. The student desires to adopt habits that lead to life.

  • Mary Garvey Horst

    What an eye-opener it was to learn that “people are too careless with negative emotions” and that there is another way! In my years of training as a psychotherapist the emphasis (at that time) was on the releasing of these types of emotions. When I began to understand the neurophysiology of how this kind of release affects the nervous system, I had to reevaluate the former methods that I had been taught. I learned about the Vagus Nerve that links the brain and the heart, as well as how to apply the vagal break to bring oneself into a state of calm & connect. By consistently applying the Emotional Gym in my life, I began to experience the internal shift toward more UpSpiral living. I no longer experienced the fluctuation of moods that I had previously been habituated to. I made the choice to live in a more joyful, grateful, loving, peaceful, and hopeful bandwidth of emotions. I do not join with the prevailing mood of those around me, I live from my inner reservoir that I have been building over time.

  • Audrey Sloofman

    During a very challenging period of my life, a friend offered me a suggested phrase/idea to use when Iwas feeling discouraged or despairing: “It’s all coming to me.” I used this as a mantra to pull myself out of the deep, dark well I was in. Later I added the continuous tool of Gratitude and now I know that I have been
    developing routes of joy in my brain. In addition, I have found that I have
    benefited from the “broaden-and-build” model of positive emotions that Barbara
    Frederickson speaks of in her paper ‘What Good Are Positive Emotions”. And to think I spent much of my life thinking that if I could only understand these negative feelings better I would get happier. Though I did get a sense of release from negative patterning, learned behaviors, or traumas…these new skills of leaning into the positive is easier and much more joyful.

  • Dr. gloria wright

    Nothing reminds me of how available negative emotions are than when I’m driving. It has become humorous to me to notice how instantaneously I can react with an aggravated, “You….” to other drivers. The humor comes in now because I am literally training myself to immediately go to joy or gratitude the instant I start to experience anger or frustration. It is so made up on intention and practice.
    I watched a video with Dr. Barbara Fredrickson from UNC yesterday. She suggests that for our health, we should add micro moments of positive connecting to others to the list of eating fruits and vegetables and being active. Maybe we could add: practice feeling positive emotions. She does mention over and over that negative emotions are very human and a natural part of life. She also advocates that we not dwell on the negative, and be conscientious about experiencing life in a positive frame.
    Dr. Frederickson talks about not striving for a continual state of rapture or happiness or joy, but a more subtle, lower key overall positive experience. The intense emotions are not likely to last, but the more subtle prevailing emotions and thoughts can “broaden and build” up a reservoir for us to count on when we need a boast. She also recommends that we step back from hard times and struggles to see the larger picture. All may not be well – temporarily- but overall our lives may be well indeed. “Positivity opens us. The first core truth about positive emotions is that they open our hearts and our minds, making us more receptive and more creative.” Hear, hear!

  • jeris hollander

    It is interesting how the human brain has evolved. The negativity bias that developed as a survival mechanism continues to be our brain’s first line of defense long after the threat of the saber tooth tiger has diminished. Although the fight/flight response remains a crucial survival component in true crisis situations, it is imperative that we train our brains to better discern true crisis from non life threatening negative situations. Allowing ourselves to repeatedly sink into negative emotions through being victimized by external situations will only deepen our connection in the down spiral, increasing cortisol and stress response, and ultimately resulting in overall decline of mental and physical well being. The more we practice a given task, the more proficient we become in it. Our thoughts and emotions are no different. Being able to perceive our negative thoughts and emotions as a cue to signify what can be changed or improved upon is an invaluable resource. It’s not about denying the presence of negativity, it’s about learning how to use it to your benefit, and allowing it to serve as a guideline of where you don’t want to be. Using the negativity cue to trigger the creation of positive thoughts/emotions is the true road map to happiness.

    Applying the emotional gym method of pulsing the feelings of gratitude, love, peace and joy over this past week have already begun to help me through a difficult personal challenge. Through rehearsing positive emotions in addition to the practice of meditation, I am further developing the core inner strengths and certitude to best cope with life’s strenuous situations. I especially like this quote, “We learned to get to anger, we can learn to get to joy. As evolutionarily predisposed as you are to anger, you are also have within you the capacity for joy, great, great joy! It is a part of your nature.” It is quite reassuring to have the understanding that as quickly as we are able to get to one emotion, we can just as quickly access another. All it takes is practice, consistency and the desire to live in the upspiral. And I can say with great certainty that the upspiral is where I choose to live.

  • Jodi Ana

    It’s amazing to me that we each have the capacity to rebuild our neurons by practicing feeling good! I love that positive psychology and science is finally catching up with the teachings of the ancients and great sages; some of which have been accessible for Millenia. This is such a game changer for so many people. I do think negative emotions are important when we can view them from a higher perspective and allow them to be teachers, without getting attached to the ‘story’ of them. If we can pull ourselves back into our higher self; connect to our breath and bring ourselves back into a place of peace and then do some self inquiry, then negative emotions can be great teachers. However, it certainly doesn’t do anybody any good to get caught up in the negative emotions and allow them to run our day (or life).

    I do know that when I practice gratitude daily and keep myself focused on the positive, life is so much more joyful! I very first learned this because of my neurologist. After he diagnosed me with narcolepsy I asked him what my future was like. He told me, “Jodi, you can’t think like that. If you do, you will destroy yourself. From now on, you must focus on the positive.” That was a changing day in my life! I left his office wondering what was positive about having narcolepsy?! Then I realized the positive (or opposite) is good health. Once I started to focus on good health and the positive in life, my entire life changed.

    My diagnosis’ went into remission. The growth on my thyroid disappeared, as well as the mass on my liver and the tumors in my breast. I wonder if he knew about positive psychology. It truly is an amazing, life-altering way of life!! The only thing we have control over in this
    life are our thoughts, feelings, and actions. When we come to master these (and ourselves), life is a completely different experience.

  • Sandra Lintz

    The brain can always be permanently changed for the better and evidence from science supports this. It’s mind boggling! At first I was learning the language, the concepts, the exercises of the emotional gym and the tools for positivity and then I realized permanent changes have been happening. This truly is change that is not going to go away. I think of the ramifications for everything from my insomnia to stroke victims regaining their motor skills, people living happy lives and people improving the world. The emotional gym gives me a language and a tool to lift myself up from lower level emotions and negative thoughts to higher ones in the upward spiral. On a scale of zero to one hundred, let’s say the shift was from 55 to 90. At first it felt like stepping off land into a canoe, a little wobbly but a new place equally supportive of by body. Now it is a smooth glide, in a split second I can often rate both my emotions and thoughts in the 90’s. I am living with a higher average rating these days and this shows two other concepts. First, the upward spiral is not just a tool for checking in and shifting upwards repeatedly. It does that and it also creates a lean that keeps us living more consistently at higher positive levels. Secondly, as the positivity has created permanent physical changes in the brain, restructuring neurons, and creating new neuropathways, it seems unlikely that positivity will atrophy. This is exciting! It is not another ineffective program of affirmations and it is not a laborious analysis searching for ancient root causes for issues to clear. Positivity yields wellbeing within the mind to include the emotions and the thoughts.

    This is one example of how positivity has helped me in a practical manner. Sometimes I would wake up in the night and not get back to sleep. Hours are filled with racing worries, a vicious circle of dark emotions and thoughts for which I was beating myself up, making things worse. Thanks to the emotional gym I was able to switch into peace in an instant, quickly go to peace in my mind. The peace lasted a few seconds and disappeared but I brought it back even more quickly and it lasted longer. This cycle continued until I fell asleep in just a few minutes. It’s a new day and this is a gym anyone would enjoy going to.

Copyright © 2015 The Applied Neuroscience Institute