Last week, Jack Curley and I presented our Attitude of Gratitude Wholebeing Workshop and added some new elements. One of the benefits of the work we do is that we are continuously reading and learning about the most recent studies related to our topics. Gratitude is an interesting one. There is not as much research as many of the other positive psychology topics, like resilience and happiness, yet the existing studies and the studies that are underway are revealing the undeniable power of gratitude.
One of the most important aspects of gratitude is that it builds positive emotions and even more importantly it helps manage social relationships with others and orients us to a world that is bigger than us. Feelings like gratitude and empathy are called “self-transcendent emotions.” With gratitude practices, like a gratitude letter or using a gratitude journal, you notice that something outside of you, an “other,” either a person, nature, luck or something beyond your direct control, contributed to your happiness, success or wholebeing. It is the recognition that we are all individual yet connected and interdependent—unique stars within one constellation.
With gratitude, positive feelings build and they are important as we navigate what can feel like a tsunami of negative news and emotions within our culture. Yet, it feels like there is a broader conversation at hand. So often at Prasada we are being asked to bring programs to organizations that focus on emotional wellbeing. But emotions and our comfort with discussing them, for most people, is still new territory.
The Emotion or Feelings Wheel
I am a person who likes to feel good and I am naturally optimistic. When I looked at this wheel I was astonished about just how many different emotions there were. Many of them are feelings that are uncomfortable for me and I might not even admit to. I’m probably not alone.
The truth is that emotions can be scary. So often they are associated with being dramatic, with the idea that they will sweep us away, that to feel is to be out of control, that one of them might come over us and never go away. They are to be avoided, controlled and left in our deepest, secret places. Or at least those were the ideas I lived with for a very long time.
Feeling them all
But we need emotions, we need to feel, and there is great value in the full range of feeling them all. The study of emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others and it begins with the ability to identify and name one’s own emotions. A few years ago as I worked with one of my coaches, she had me stop 5 or 6 times a day to notice how I was feeling and write it down. At first, it was so annoying. I had a few days of thinking that I had many other, more important things to do than spend time checking in with my emotions.
Though as I practiced and became more self-aware, I noticed how each fluctuation of emotion was like a wind pushing my mood and behavior in one direction or another. I could see that these winds could sometimes push me off course when I was not paying attention. I’d fail to listen fully to my team or be shortsighted in how we might make a revision to a program.
I learned how to catch myself when these emotions blew in. I would stop and sit for a few breaths to feel the full impact and then it would pass or the intensity would ease up. This is how we are guided in a mindfulness meditation, that all feelings have a beginning a middle and an end. This way of being with what bubbles up and even being grateful for the feelings that are not my favorites continue to be a practice for me. It has become more natural as I realized this path requires so much less energy than when I was fighting to keep all my undesirable feelings at bay.
Emotions to save the world
It seems the value of our emotions may even be a critical part of a path for a more sustainable and humane future. This morning the BBC FUTURE published an article, Why we need to be more emotional to save the world.
“[Emotions] provide us with quintessential information about what’s important and what to do next and how to do it and who to do it with.
To create a better future where everyone can flourish, leaders and organisations need to find ways to engage and encourage emotions more fully.”
The article is worth the read and emphasized for me that my own inner work is a small, but important contribution to the whole. If I am able and willing to feel all of my own emotions and work with them to harvest the deeper wisdom offered, I will have a much better chance to understand, accept and work with the others who will be different from me.
I have no illusions, it’s work. It will take effort. I will fail and keep trying. While quick and easy solutions appear preferable, this work is the work of tending seeds and requires patience and care, but also holds unimaginable possibilities. I’m not sure exactly what these possibilities are, and likely they may not even come to fruition in my life.
I learned in Girl Scouts many years ago that when you go camping, to leave the campsite in better shape when you leave than when you arrived.
Is there any more noble aspiration for a legacy than to wish to contribute to making the earth a better place than when we arrived?
This week’s practices
Take a look at the Emotion Wheel above and explore.
Which slices of the pie are the places of your preference?
Which feelings do you avoid or suppress?
What wisdom might emerge from accepting those feelings?
What existing activities in your life solicit emotions that you desire or not?
What new activities or practices might help you explore some new emotions that would be of value to you?
And this a wonderful short video about emotions.