Expanding on a theme that’s been running through these recent posts, particularly ‘Simple Thankfulness’, here are some additional reflections on taking the time and care to intentionally guide our emotions. For many of us, that’s a new dimension that is entirely unexplored. Human beings are capable of experiencing up to 34,000 individual emotions, and probably even more through subtle combinations. With such a vast and complex aspect of our fundamental being, one would think that there would be considerably more education on how to actually manage emotions, and evoke those that are more fulfilling and helpful.
As a friend pointed out to me recently, that’s not about positive thinking; it’s about getting a handle on how to choose which emotions we frequent or bottom out into. For example, how we emotionally perceive or shape past events we’ve already lived (as in the Molly Bloom Soliloquy in the last post). I’d add here that that’s not living in the past – it’s freeing oneself to be fully in this moment by not tumbling into old, ineffective (and often inaccurate) emotional and mental patterns that drag us backward and downward. Of course, this functions equally in the present moment, in choosing to perceive and consciously generate positive emotions that we’re unfamiliar with or ignore:
“And above all, being real, being sincere.”
Looking at emotional skillfulness from the outside in, there are also external actions we can take that will produce positive emotions and a more balanced state of being in general. Decades of research in medicine and psychology fields have identified that we experience pleasure, joy, inspiration, peace, and wellbeing when our hormones and neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins are released. There are natural activating triggers for these proven to significantly alter our emotional state, and each of them can be produced by specific activities. (Modern lifestyles tend to over-emphasize hitting the dopamine button too often in the search for heightened emotions through synthetic activities, like social media, video games, pornography, fast-paced movies and TV series, and relentless career pursuits, all of which cause a downward spiral of diminishing returns.) Here’s a list of some of the most effective natural activities – employed and evolved over millennia – that produce a more well-rounded, healthy, and satisfying state of being, with simple commentary:
- Exercise. Especially cardiorespiratory and slower forms, such as yoga, Tai Chi, and deep stretching.
- Time in nature. The more immersive and longer time spent, the more effective.
- Nutrition. A balanced, full-spectrum diet (minimizing empty calories – processed carbohydrates, sugars, and fats), with particular attention to how much and when.
- Meditation or prayer. Of any kind that leads to deeper mental and emotional quietness; simple slow diaphragmatic breathing can be done pretty much anywhere at any time.
- Listening to music and engaging art. See ‘Leaning into Art’.
- Generosity and kindness. Including in the simplest exchanges (not to be mistaken for gratuitous or strategic niceness).
- Accomplishment. Small or large makes little difference, but particularly potent when there’s creativity in the process.
- Thankfulness. Easy to activate and just a second away at any time.
- Physical or conversational intimacy. Especially when uncommon, real emotions are expressed and accepted.
- Laughter. Purposely engaging the people and activities that make us laugh.
For advanced practitioners, parents, healers, and educators of all kinds, all of these suggestions can be at least directly encouraged if not actually produced for others. For those who are very creative and sincere, most or all suggestions on this list can be generated in one session. But even just choosing to focus on one or two that we don’t usually attend to will give us a better chance at uplifting our emotional state, and consequently, the experience and outlook of those with whom we interact. Especially during extended periods of intensified stress and strain, some focused attention directed to our emotional wellbeing – and the emotional wellbeing of those we sincerely care about – can make a world of difference.
A great example of accomplishing many of the above suggestions in one stroke (#s 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9), as well as exemplifying the title of this post, here’s a piece of art that expresses well, and calls upon, some emotions we’d probably be better off frequenting more often:
Painting by Andre Zadorine
(Thank you, Guy, for the suggestion of the Barbara Fredrickson video)