Two Simple Ways to Take Charge of Your Emotional Life

Do you feel like your emotions are something outside of your control?

Are you really pissed off or just hungry?

Can you tell the difference between joy, euphoria and happiness?

Lisa Feldman Barrett is a professor of psychology at Northeastern University in Boston and the author of a new book that explores our emotional life. In her book, ‘How Emotions Are Made’, Barrett challenges the classical view that our emotions are hardwired to specific neurons in our brain that cause us to behave in a certain way.

This kind of thinking assumes that emotions just happen to us. Barrett argues that our emotions don’t just happen to us but are constructed in the moment by core systems in the body that affect the whole brain.

Our brains have evolved for the purpose of regulating the internal state of our body through a process called interoception, which monitors things like heart rate, metabolism, thirst and tiredness. The brain takes this raw data and makes sense of it based upon past experiences. Therefore, our brain is not simply reacting but constantly predicting what we are feeling and this according to Barrett directly affects our emotional state.

Barrett suggests that we can have much more control over our emotions and have the ability to change our experience of them by becoming more emotionally intelligent.

So how do we do this?

By developing emotional granularity. This simply means finding new words to communicate our emotions. You can think of it like wine tasting. Rather than being able to enjoy a shiraz, cabernet merlot or pinot noir we learn to distinguish between the subtle flavours of cranberry, prune and red plum.

The more words we have to describe our emotional states then the brain can construct finer distinctions so that we can better tailor our emotions to each situation.

To enhance our emotional intelligence Barrett suggests reading widely, especially fiction, watching plays, going to the movies and listening to music. These experiences allow us to immerse ourselves in the world of language and emotions, which all enhance our emotional intelligence.

The next important step to manage our emotions is managing our body budget. As mentioned earlier, our body budget is our interoceptive network that works day and night to regulate things like our heart rate, breathing blood pressure and hormones. If our body budget gets out of whack then we’re going to feel like crap.

Eating junk food, spending too much time on the computer and in front of the TV as well as poor sleeping habits compromise our body budget, which in turn raises our stress levels and ultimately affects our emotional wellbeing.

So how do we keep our body budget balanced?

This is stuff we already know but just by making a few lifestyle changes such as eating fresh food, exercising and getting quality sleep as well as spending time in natural light and green spaces can have an enormous impact on our body budget and enhance our overall sense of wellbeing.

Douglas Channing



Category : Blog & Emotional Intelligence & Happiness & Health & Wellbeing & Stress Reduction

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