We already know the answers to life.
Health? Eat well and exercise.
Success? Work hard and smart.
Happiness? Be content with what you have, give more than you receive, and go to Disney World occasionally.
It’s pretty standard stuff and nearly everyone knows it. But 2/3 of the USA is overweight, not everyone succeeds, and misery seems to abound as much as happiness. We aren’t surprised by this because we’re used to seeing these things. We’ve even fallen prey to these conditions ourselves.
This equation is missing something, isn’t it?
- Bill Clinton had an affair as the President of the United States.
- Bernie Madoff stole about $50 billion in the world’s biggest ponzi scheme.
- Chris Farley, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, and many others have died from drug-abuse.
- The founder of Victoria’s Secret, Roy Raymond, jumped off a bridge to his death.
Does anyone believe that these people didn’t know the right answer in their situation? Did Bill Clinton say, “I bet this will help my career. This is a good decision,” before engaging in sexual relations with Miss Lewinsky? Did Bernie Madoff never learn that stealing is wrong? Of course these people knew the right answer, but they willingly chose the wrong answer.
Bill Clinton fell prey to lust. Bernie Madoff let greed dictate his decisions. Those famous drug overdoses were a result of wanting the other-worldly feeling that drugs provide. Roy Raymond seemed to have been depressed after his second business went bankrupt and he went through divorce.
There is a commonality here. These people let their emotional state decide their actions.
Roy Raymond was a very smart, capable individual. He could have found love again after he divorced his first wife. He could have started another business or at least gotten a great job with his credentials. He could have been happy with the right mindset, but he chose to believe there was nothing left for him, and his negative emotions drove him to suicide.
Drug overdoses are mostly the same story. People take drugs in the first place to fill a void. When something is addictive and makes you feel great, the risk of overdoing it is high, and unfortunately, it can kill you.
Interesting: Drugs are something people do to feel better. Suicide is what people do to stop feeling anything. They are both responses to emotional discomfort and pain, and I think this is why drug overdose is a common method of suicide – you feel better up until you die.
Madoff is infamous. He stole from a lot of people, and lied to a lot more people than that. He is the current king of dishonesty. Like many others, he was greedy. Unlike many others, he had the wits and position to act on it.
So What? Emotions Are Bad?
We’ve dissected some famous blunders and found that uncontrolled emotions were the underlying issue with these people. They knew the right answer, but chose to satisfy their feelings in the moment instead (something we’ve all done). What’s the moral of these stories?
It’s not that we should be emotionless!
Emotions are valuable and important. Kissing your significant other, viewing a powerful film, winning the Super Bowl, smiling in an afternoon conversation, experiencing a rush of happiness for no particular reason, and laughing at Seinfeld reruns are all amazing experiences that enrich our lives. It’s easy to see why some people live for their feelings, because our feelings are what make us feel alive!
The question is then…
What The Heck Do We Do With Emotions?
Emotions are indicators and sensors, primarily. They indicate problems internally or externally (anger, sadness, depression, and anxiety all indicate problems). They indicate healthy living as well (happiness, joy, laughter). They sense situations too, making us feel everything from hate and jealousy to friendship and love. They are pretty darn good at informing us about what’s going on underneath the surface show.
Have you ever been talking to someone and just felt uneasy? That’s an emotional indicator which means you don’t like the person, don’t trust the person, or can’t relate with the person.
Have you ever looked at a person and immediately felt butterflies in your stomach? That’s attraction.
Our ability to understand what our emotions are and how to deal with them is called emotional intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence Helps Us Live Smarter
Emotions are important, but school teaches us nothing about emotional intelligence (unless you take Psychology in college). Most parents know as little about emotional intelligence as their kids do. This is a formula for “emotional stupidity,” when people are living with emotions they don’t know how to interpret or control.
We all know what sadness means when we first cry. We naturally smile when we’re happy. Unfortunately, that alone isn’t going to cut it in life.
If you’re privileged enough to have computer and internet access to be able to read this, your problem is not likely that you can’t get food on the table, it’s that your job stresses you out, you want more out of life, or you feel alone. These are emotional problems.
The complexity of emotion behind some decisions is tremendous, and can be difficult to unravel. But this improves with practice. Approximately 1 of every 592 people practice (unconfirmed data) identifying their emotions. But if you want to get better at it and harness the power you gain from identifying your emotions, start by asking yourself how you feel.
I remember how hard it was when I first practiced identifying my emotions. I had an argument with my best friend one night, and I finally admitted that I was angry (I was trying to hide it before that). We both admitted we were angry that night and it allowed us to take a step back and react less emotionally. We sorted out the argument and learned that our anger prevented us from communicating until we acknowledged it.
How Understanding Your Emotions Can Help You In Daily Life
Nervous for a speech? Understanding nervousness and addressing its irrational fears (giving a bad speech, the worst case scenario, isn’t such a horrible life event) will decompress your spring-loaded nervous system.
Scared about the future? We give power to our fears when we ignore them. Acknowledge fear and boldly stare in its face. The solutions are not impossible as your fear indicated.
Sad? Don’t deny it. Admit it. People feel better after they cry because it is a powerful release of emotion. It’s maximum sadness being poured out. After they get through it, they will eventually see what will always be the case – life goes on.
Emotional intelligence is worth improving. A common factor in all of these examples is that when you acknowledge an emotion, you can better manage it. When you’re in denial, though, it can fester within you and come out in unexpected ways.
The more aware you are of your emotions, the more they’ll serve you and less they’ll hurt you.
I’m Stephen Guise, the founder of Deep Existence: a blog about focusing, habits, and the power of small steps. I also wrote the life-changing #1 best seller, “Mini Habits,” which has already sold 10,000+ copies and is rated 4.8 stars. Join Deep Existence to gain access to more than 30 exclusive articles, download 40 “focus wallpapers,” and more!