By Nataly Kogan

How to deal with difficult emotions

Tags Living Happier

One of the discoveries I made in my journey to learn how to live a fuller, happier, more meaningful life was a surprising one.

I used to think that happiness was on the other side of the spectrum from negative emotions, like sadness or guilt. But what I learned is that our emotions are more like a fabric, a quilt, than a single string. We can feel different emotions at the same time and to truly be happier, we have to learn how to experience difficult emotions with compassion rather than always struggling to run away from them.

We have to learn how to be OK when we are not OK.

Susan David, a Harvard Medical School psychologist, is one of the people whose work and research were a huge help to me. In her book. Emotional Agility, Susan shares how we can all learn to re-frame our most troubling feelings as a source of energy and creativity.

The book is useful, inspiring, awesome. I was lucky to have a chance to speak with Susan the other day and wanted to share some of her insights with you.

How would you define emotional agility?

Ability to be with your emotions effectively, in a way that ultimately allows you to live a valued-rich life.

Why do most of us resist feeling negative emotions?

We live in a culture where we are taught to fight our emotions, to control them. How many of us had been told, as kids: "Go to your room and come out when you have a smile on your face."

So we get into a habit of judging emotions: This one is good, this one is bad.

Also, it IS really difficult to feel what we call "negative". It is uncomfortable. So we struggle with these emotions, we wrestle with them, and spend a lot of our energy doing that.

So what's a better way to deal with difficult emotions?

Difficult emotions can tell us a lot if we look at them with curiosity and courage. They can be very useful.

So instead of fighting with difficult emotions, can you breathe into them and give yourself a bit of space in which to experience and learn from them. Ask yourself: What is the function of this emotion? What is it telling me?

Let me give you an example: I travel a lot for work and the other day I was feeling very guilty for spending time away from my family. Of course that didn't feel good. But I asked myself about what guilt might be telling me. And I realized that being connected to my family was one of my most important values and I was a bit too far from that. I needed to move my life closer in that direction. My difficult emotion of guilt taught me something valuable.

I was always afraid to allow myself to feel difficult emotions because I thought if I did, I would just get stuck in them. I'd love your thoughts on this.

Actually, the opposite is true. You expand so much energy when you play tug-of-war with your difficult emotions. And you invalidate yourself as you do this. When you drop the rope, you have more space to experience your emotion.

Sometimes we think that we are our emotions. People say: "I'm in the cloud, I'm sad."

You're not the cloud; you're the sky. Your difficult emotion is the cloud, but you have the capacity to experience many emotions. Replace your struggle with them with space to feel them and learn from them.

To learn more about Susan and her work, please visit her website:

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