Some people love New Year with the promise of resolutions, a new beginning, renewed energy to do the thing that they meant to do last year. Others dread the long winter days, the dreary ‘down’ after the busy high of Christmas. This blog looks at the mixed (ambivalent) emotions that are often felt this time of year. Traditionally psychology has presented these types of emotion patterns as a bad thing (“we must try and focus on the positives, people!”), but more recent research is telling us that mixed emotions can actually be a good thing.
What are ambivalent emotions?
The research into emotions uses different terms to study the varied feelings we have: complex, granular, diverse, and creative to name but a few. These all refer to the broad range of emotions felt at a given time or across a timeframe. It is becoming generally understood that it’s a good thing to have lots of varied emotions as this creates a richer experience and stronger cognitive reasoning. Part of this richness is ambivalent feelings: the simultaneous experience of feeling positive and negative emotions at the same time. There are however numerous studies which suggest this is a bad state to be in, as people become indecisive and focus on negative feelings to try to reduce the ambivalence. For instance, some research states that being ambivalent makes people inflexible and disengaged from others.
But is it all bad?
Recently it has been found that if someone has empathy for another person, even when feeling ambivalent, the mixed emotions felt will strengthen the empathic behaviour. This makes sense when we look at compassion which is triggered by feeling someone else’s pain, but also feeling courageous and hopeful in helping them. Here the paradox of feeling good and bad at the same time is the driver towards the compassionate act.
Other research posits ambivalent emotions encourages one to reflect on why the uncomfortable feelings are there, which broadens out one’s perspective. Ambivalence means paying more attention to what is happening and what is being said. In effect it creates more balanced consideration of other people and other options. In organisations it is a precursor to accepting change and develops resilience.
Ambivalence is also a form of wisdom due to the willingness to be more open and thoughtful of other perspectives. It has been found that these ambivalent experiences enable much more accurate and fruitful decision making and judgement. Conversely, when feeling only positive or negative emotions, one’s perspective is much narrower, leading to the consideration of fewer options and less accuracy in choosing the right solution.
Welcoming in the New Year
So whatever you feel about 2019 and what’s ahead of you, remember that it’s a good thing to have mixed feelings. Use the ambivalence to open your mind to wider perspectives which could help you find an idea or solution that is more creative than one you might otherwise have come up with. And tune into your empathy (for yourself and others) as that will mean you will strengthen the positive power your ambivalence creates. Embrace the New Year with both trepidation and excitement and you might find it turns into a great year!
So I’d like to wish you an ambivalent 2019!
About the author: Lisa Jones
‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’
The Positive Psychology People is co-founded and sponsored
by Lesley Lyle and Dan Collinson,
Directors of Positive Psychology Learning and authors of the
8-week online Happiness Course