Our feelings are very important, even negative feelings, because they tell us something about ourselves. Just like a pain in our foot indicates there’s something wrong with our foot, and we need to pay attention to it or we could injure it further, negative emotions are signals to us to pay attention. Feeling empty isn’t the same as feeling lonely although it’s a kissing cousin and could be there as well. Feeling empty is how a person can feel even when they’re in a relationship, one they like. Drinking or using drugs might fix that feeling in the short term but in the long term it will only make the feeling worse.

Schools today have had to stop emphasizing the arts because of “No Child Left Behind.” Teachers are forced to teach for the tests and cannot allow time for very much creative work. So, children aren’t learning how to self-soothe by pursuing individual creative interests. Being absorbed in painting, writing, photography, and many other types of creative endeavors allows the individual time to separate from the external world and become completely absorbed in what they’re doing, following their own noses, so to speak.

Shopping doesn’t count, going to lunch with friends doesn’t count, doing something you are interested in that involves using your imagination like the short list above, even gardening counts. It doesn’t have to be a traditional creative pursuit. It does have to involve your imagination and your singular attention and energy and, most importantly, your ideas. The next time you “feel empty” or “lost” or “like I don’t know who I am” make a deal with yourself to at least try, just one time, doing something by yourself that involves the above and agree with yourself to stay with it for at least an hour and a half. Why an hour and a half? Because it takes about that much time for a person to leave the external world behind and become intrigued or engrossed in what they’re doing.

If you make yourself do it just once, you’ll notice how much better you feel at the end of the hour and a half. You might even find you’ve worked at your project much longer than an hour and a half and that’s even better. Doing something creative helps the individual develop a sense of self, become a fully developed person, lose the negative feeling or feelings that were just there to make you pay attention to your need to be in touch with your unique self. Every time you get that feeling or even when you don’t have the feeling/s, go back at least once a week to what you love and do it, again for at least an hour and a half.

That’s why negative emotions are just as important as positive ones and why we should always pay attention to them.