The Alchemy of Acceptance: How Accepting Emotions Enhances the Ability to Flexibly Work with Them
emotion regulation flexibility
Positive psychology’s study of human well-being has not fully examined the adaptive ways we encounter and interact with negative emotions. Research shows that acceptance, an emotion regulation technique involving non-judgmentally and non-reactively encountering negative emotion, benefits well-being. Acceptance provides a useful counterpoint to research demonstrating that some of the means we use to make ourselves feel better, including pursuit of or highly valuing happiness and avoidance or suppression of negative emotion, often backfire and harm well-being. As the field of emotion regulation matures and explores complex and blended strategies that individuals use to regulate their emotions, it should focus on the role that acceptance may play as an adaptive initial response to emotion that promotes emotion regulation flexibility. In taking up this inquiry, I seek to expand positive psychology’s horizons toward a more complex view of human well-being – one that incorporates and even leverages the parts that are challenging and uncomfortable and offers a variety of tools for working with those experiences. Initially accepting emotions for what they are – complex, dynamic, and potentially useful sources of information about our perceptions of the world around us – might help us to learn from and respond to the world as it actually is.