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The value of neutral feelings

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When it comes to the spectrum of emotions, the human brain likes to chase the “positive” feelings, and avoid the “negative” feelings. 

Positive and negative is all about perception though, and for some people a negative emotion can actually feel more comfortable than a positive emotion, depending on their mindset and outlook on life. F0r example, if someone always anticipates something going wrong, it can be uncomfortable to be happy, because they are just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Negative emotion validates their mindset, and thus is more comfortable on an ongoing basis.

Emotions are varied, nuanced, and profoundly shape who we identify as.

But what about neutral emotions? I’m not sure if an emotion can really be neutral, but there are definitely some emotions in the human repertoire that fall into the middle of the spectrum.

I think of emotions as an infinity loop, constantly moving back and forth through a spectrum. Depending on your emotional makeup, the far ends of your loop may be extreme, as in bi-polar disorder. Or they may be less extreme, but emotions are based on chemicals in your body, and chemicals are finite. They are created, they are spent, they are created again. Every emotion comes to an end before it begins again, moving back and forth across the spectrum.

Notice that middle area, the area marked neutral. I think of this area as where we feel emotions that we define with words like:

  • fine
  • alright
  • O.K.
  • normal
  • just plugging along
  • nothing new

There’s nothing that exciting about being in this neutral emotional area, but there’s also nothing bad about it. It’s just a settled, non-dramatic space.

When people start therapy or coaching due to a negative emotional state that is effecting how they are dealing with certain circumstances in their daily life, their mind is usually telling them that something is wrong, and they need to feel better. And our society has been stuck on happy and joyful and fulfilled as the indicators of feeling “better”.

But if you’re on the negative end of that infinity loop, any movement towards the other end of the spectrum is going to make you feel better, and you’re going to travel through the neutral area before you get to the positive.

So here’s a question for your to ponder; is the neutral area good enough? Rather than feeling all the negative emotions about whatever it is you are perceiving as a problem, is feeling fine about it enough?

Part of your brain is always going to want to chase the good feels, because when we’re in those moments of happiness and joy we can momentarily let go of the enormity of being an living creature on a dynamic planet in a vast universe. We momentarily feel safe without having to work at it.

But existing in the neutral space, which happens far more often, can be a space of contentment and peace as long as we don’t think there’s something wrong with it. Again, modern society has been on a kick to chase our ultimate happiness. We see advertisements and social media posts showing people living their best lives. The truth is, those are positive moments surrounded by a majority of being normal.

Please know that I’m not advocating that you let go of of your dreams and big goals and just be fine. But what I am saying is that allowing yourself to value the neutral space, the space where everything is normal, O.K., just fine and alright can take some of the pressure of living a human life off of you.

And an unexpected side benefit of valuing this space is that when you no longer feel like just fine is a bad thing, you free up a lot of mental energy to pursue those moments that will spike your emotions with happiness, joy, and satisfaction.

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Thanks to Yuriy Bogdanov on Unsplash for the top photo.