by Tolu Bamidele

Oftentimes, humanity is drawn to the feeling of happiness. “Feel good” movies, comedy, ‘how-to-be-happy’ books, and other forms of media which produce feelings of happiness tend to outsell many other genres, especially among youths. Lately, this happiness is being desperately pursued and considered the do-all and end-all of emotional wellbeing and stability. This is a dangerous and completely wrong notion.

This notion comes from the modern view of what emotional wellbeing is supposed to be. Emotional health is nowadays considered to be a state of mind wherein a person feels good things like happiness, and peace on a constant and continuous basis. This is prevalent in today’s society, with hundreds of ‘be happy, stay happy’ publications flooding the self-help sections of libraries and bookstores, as well as social media trends of posting content with captions about serotonin, which is a hormone associated with happiness.

In this world, it is easy to forget that the human psyche is not made up of optional selections. Other emotions such as anger, jealousy, sadness and fear cannot be picked or disregarded. A human can do their best to suppress these emotions, however, when they cannot be eradicated completely.

That brings us to the question; what exactly is emotional wellbeing? It is when one is emotionally strong enough, not only to enjoy positive emotions on a regular basis but also to properly handle negative emotions and work through them. Emotional well-being is not suppressing or trying to stop negative emotions, but rather acknowledging them and effectively dealing with them.

This doesn’t stop people from trying, as many people seem to believe that one has to stop being sad in order to achieve emotional health, rather than work through their sadness. Neglecting or trying to get rid of your other emotions, which is impossible, poses a great risk to your emotional state, the very opposite of what most people desire. This emotional restriction can come from not only the media content of today but also as a consequence of childhood upbringing.

According to Crystal Raypole for “Emotional repression often relates to childhood experiences. Much of what children learn about behavior and communication comes from their primary caregivers. Adults with repressed emotions often feel out of touch or disconnected from their feelings because they had a different childhood experience.

Even if your caregivers didn’t specifically invalidate your emotional experience, they still might’ve discouraged you from expressing intense emotions freely by telling you to stop crying or shouting. As a result, you began to think of sadness, anger, and disappointment as emotions you shouldn’t have, or at the very least, shouldn’t acknowledge to anyone.”

The movie ‘Inside Out’ captures the concepts of toxic happiness and emotional wellbeing in a simple and powerful way. The main character’s emotions are portrayed as living beings, with Joy being at the helm of the main character, Riley, and works to prevent Sadness from having a presence in Riley’s emotional memory. However, this leads to a series of events that cause a breakdown in Riley’s psyche, and being saturated with not enough emotions, she becomes numb. But in the end, Sadness and Joy create a good memory, that is, one of sad happiness, which improves Riley’s emotional state.

It is important that we learn to distinguish between toxic happiness and emotional well-being and associate ourselves with the latter. As Sigmund Freud said, “Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways”.