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I have experienced minor addictions lately, such as overeating or social media; these topics have been addressed on this site previously.

I now have a more general question. I am wondering: which is more important between tolerating negative emotions and aspiring to healthier positive emotions and activities?

Currently, both are quite difficult for me. Any suggestions as how to tolerate negative emotions, to let them arise, are welcome. Similarly, any suggestions about ideal ways to generate joyfulness and positive emotions would be useful as well.

Thank you.

  • How te hell is addiction different from suffering? – user13064 Apr 15 '18 at 6:49
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I now have a more general question. I am wondering: which is more important between tolerating negative emotions and aspiring to healthier positive emotions and activities?

Any suggestions as how to tolerate negative emotions, to let them arise, are welcome. Similarly, any suggestions about ideal ways to generate joyfulness and positive emotions would be useful as well.

It really depends on the tradition/method that works for you.

When negative feelings or thoughts of ill-will arise, they can be substituted with wholesome thoughts/feelings, e.g. by practicing Loving-kindness meditation.

In Vipassana traditions, one tries to observe unwholesome phenomena passively and objectively, in order to prevent the mind from falling into liking or disliking, thereby slowly changing the habits of the clinging mind.

The general approach is explained in the noble path factor of Right Effort (Samma Vayama). In SN 45.8 - Magga-vibhanga Sutta: An Analysis of the Path, the Buddha teaches:

“... And what, bhikkhus, is right effort? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu generates desire for the nonarising of unarisen evil unwholesome states; he makes an effort, arouses energy, applies his mind, and strives. He generates desire for the abandoning of arisen evil unwholesome states…. He generates desire for the arising of unarisen wholesome states…. He generates desire for the maintenance of arisen wholesome states, for their nondecay, increase, expansion, and fulfilment by development; he makes an effort, arouses energy, applies his mind, and strives. This is called right effort ...".

To sum it up, one needs to:

  • abandon or dispel already arisen unwholesome states of mind.

  • to guard against or prevent unarisen unwholesome states of mind from arising.

  • to cultivate unarisen wholesome states of mind.

  • to main already arisen wholesome states of mind.

Wholesome states of mind are e.g.; Serenity and insight, the four foundations of mindfulness, the eight path factors and especially the seven factors of enlightenment.

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Normally in Buddhism we don't "tolerate" negative emotions. We tolerate negative experiences, but negative emotions is something we would like to eliminate.

Joyfulness and positive emotions is something we are taught to generate, starting from coarse and then progressively finer, until we arrive at pure suchness, which is not an emotion at all.

Generally speaking, negative emotions arise due to all kinds of (mental/emotional) attachments. A standard technique probably taught by all schools is to see attachment/preconception/overgeneralization behind the emotion and to let that go. If emotion is particularly strong it may help to first learn to localize it as psychosomatic experience somewhere around the body image, and to reduce it with psychosomatic methods (breathing, moving, relaxation, visualizations). Some teachers suggest massaging or tickling the air in the area where emotion is felt, or tapping the body at that spot. In any case, psychosomatic methods are secondary. The primary technique is to learn to pacify the inner conflicts through control of conceptual fabrications. I've heard many descriptions of this: learning to construct wholesome narratives, learning to switch perspectives at will etc. but they all boil down to the same principle: tapping into brain's evaluation mechanism.

The same principle is at work for generating positive emotions. The basic skill is to control one's perspectives and the personal narratives that come from it. It is the same technique most people unconsciously use to maintain their ego: finding reasons to congratulate oneself, and reinvesting the joy that comes from that into further effort in the same direction. The only difference here is that Buddhists use it consistently with Ethics, and with perfect awareness of Emptiness, so they don't get lost in their own fabrications and don't create unwholesome results.

To boil this down to one principle: it is all about "The Given" and "The Ought" or simply "Is" and "Should". A mismatch leads to negative emotions, a match leads to positive emotions. Everything we do in Buddhism, regardless of how a particular school presents it, serves only one goal: to minimize the mismatch, to fabricate a match, and to eventually transcend the dichotomy altogether.

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