Can We Be Happy and Sad at the Same Time?

We regularly experience a dance of mixed emotions. Life is full of ups and downs, but on occasion there are downs in the ups! Emotions can be complex and sometimes cutoff from immediate awareness. One emotion may overwhelm others, and so we identify with the strongest. Emotions can be confusing, complicated, and seemingly out of line with our experience. It is relieving when our feelings can be easily connected to the external experience. For example, when we lose a loved one, we expect to feel grief and sadness. When we get accolades from a boss, we anticipate pride and happiness. It is wonderful when our emotions make intellectual sense, logically follow our current experiences, align with our values, and are clear. We run into more challenges, when our emotions are mixed, messy, confusing, and are incongruent with who we are and want to be. This “emotion confusion” can be very common, and our fight against or ignoring of some emotion may have a negative impact. Some people may feel unexpectedly distressed, grieved, anxious, tired, or confused as a result of ignoring emotional experiences.

We must begin to realize that our feelings are just that – feelings. They are not personality characteristics, they are not facts, and they do not need to define us. They are responses that help us to understand and sort through our world. The more we can listen to, learn from, and (even) befriend the varied emotions we experience, the more we can better understand ourselves and move ahead with life.

If we are honest, even the best moments in our life are usually rounded out with challenging feelings. Consider a wedding. While most people believe one’s wedding day should be one of the happiest of their life, a lot of people feel mixed about the union. Along with excitement, joy, and love are feelings of loss of one’s former life, fear, and uncertainty. All of these emotions (and many more) are normal. As we are able to be open with and accept our mixed emotions, the more we can be honest with ourselves and less surprised when we do not feel “all good” or “all bad” about a certain event. We can grasp the complexity of a situation, and maybe even share our mixed feelings with someone else. This may normalize our own and another person’s experience and even has the potential to deepen intimacy.

It is important to begin dealing with the complexity of mixed emotions by honestly acknowledging the many emotions we feel. We must try not to judge ourselves for experiencing some emotions that we “shouldn’t.” Rather, examine within for the potpourri of responses we may be experiencing, and even consider writing them down. Accept our emotions and share them with a trusted friend/family member, let them wash over us, and then move forward. If we continue to feel stuck, consciously consider if a further internal examination or a behavioral change may be necessary in light of the feelings. Perhaps our emotions are communicating something important that needs to be further investigated. Just remember, all choices usually involve an array of feelings. Let them be!