Turn Emotion into Forward Motion

For those of you who struggle to talk or think about emotions, buckle up because today’s post is all about the “feels.” I mean, come on, did you really think you were going to get through a blog about happiness without emotion coming up once?…Okay, I’ll admit, it’s probably going to come up more than once. 😉

In fact, becoming more aware of your emotions and how they influence your thoughts and behaviors is probably one of the most important personal skills you can learn in the pursuit of happiness.

Before we get to that, though, it’s important to understand one core concept: there are no good or bad emotions.

Uh huh…I can sense the raised eyebrow. Certainly emotions like fear and anger are bad while other feelings like joy and love are good, right? While it’s true that certain emotions may make you feel better or worse – I don’t want to be sad any more than anyone else does – all emotions have equal value and importance because of the story they tell us when we take the time to listen.

Have you ever heard the saying pain is a signal that something is wrong? It’s a phrase that’s often used more for physical pain but the same can be said of our emotions.

When we get a sign of physical pain, most of us immediately take steps to rectify what’s happening. We’ll take a pain reliever, get some rest, see a doctor, or apply any number of other remedies.

But what do we do when our thoughts or feelings cause distress? When it comes to emotional pain, many of us fall into one of a few camps:

  • We try to ignore it
  • We mask it
  • We pretend it doesn’t exist
  • We live in it unintentionally

When we avoid focusing on our emotions, we miss what they’re telling us and, as a result, tend to keep repeating the behaviors or actions that lead to those feelings. It’s the equivalent of breaking our foot but continuing to walk on it and wondering why it continues to hurt.

But what would happen if we treated emotions similar to these physical signals? What if we learned to pay attention to those feelings, understand what they’re telling us, and made active decisions to resolve them (or continue them in the case of emotions we enjoy)?

Still don’t believe that there are no bad emotions? Just like physical pain tells us about an injury or an illness, emotional pain may come up in instances where:

  • We’re acting outside of our core values
  • Stretching outside our comfort zone
  • In need of a change to our lives, careers, relationships, etc.

There can be any number of reasons that our emotions flare. The point is, there is a reason. In this way every emotion, even the ones we dislike, serves a purpose. They tell us about ourselves and, as such, can serve as a beacon lighting our way to the experiences, relationships, careers, and lives we want.

So then the question becomes, how do you turn on this powerful radar?

  1. The first step is to simply start paying attention to your emotions and what circumstances they’re connected to.
  2. Next, you focus on naming the emotion. Is it fear, anger, anticipation, contentment?
  3. Finally, you try to identify why you’re having that emotion in that particular situation.

When you try this exercise, even at a rudimentary level, you might be surprised as to what you’re feeling and why. Many of us group together emotions that are perceived as negative or positive. But once you start to break them out and define them along with their root cause, you’ll begin to pinpoint what they’re telling you about yourself.

When I first started becoming more emotionally aware, I found a journal to be most effective. In the moment, I would do my best to identify the emotion and the situation it was connected to. Later, when I had more time, I would work through what had triggered that emotion.

If journaling isn’t your thing, here are some other ideas that may provide inspiration to help you pay more attention:

  • In a work space, specifically, use something small like post-it notes or popsicle sticks to write down all the emotions you can think of. Set them where they’re highly visible and pull the appropriate emotion to the side when you feel it.
  • If you utilize your phone a lot, use a list or note app to make a list of emotions and highlight or notate beside individual emotions as they occur.
  • If you spend a lot of time in your home, get refrigerator magnets that represent different emotions and move them from your refrigerator door to your freezer door (or vice versa) as you notice specific feelings.

Think about what will work best for you and run with it! No matter what you do, becoming more emotionally aware is a fantastic way to make progress towards feeling happier on a more regular basis. Once you know how you’re feeling and why, you gain a level of control and can begin to take small steps towards the thoughts, feelings, and results you want.

Think about what will work best for you and run with it! No matter what you do, becoming more emotionally aware is a fantastic way to make progress towards feeling happier on a more regular basis. Once you know how you’re feeling and why, you gain a level of control and can begin to take small steps towards the thoughts, feelings, and results you want.

Now, of course, that isn’t to say it’s the only step. In fact, one warning I’ll give you is that sometimes becoming more emotionally aware may feel like it’s making you unhappier. You may begin to judge yourself and become self-critical when you realize the root cause behind your emotions.

The best advice I can give you is the same thing I told myself: this is about journeys not judgement. Just by taking the time to become more self-aware, you’re automatically progressing and taking active steps toward self-improvement. Give yourself the space and grace to follow that journey through to the end, where a happier version of yourself waits, ready to make your life and those around you shine brighter.

Of course, sometimes it can be helpful to go through this journey with someone else. If that’s you and you think you could benefit from some coaching to become more self-aware or to address any other challenge or goal, shoot me an email. I’d love to talk with you and see how I can help.

Until next time, have a wonderful, happy week!

What is Happiness?

2020 has been a particularly challenging year for so many people. Our lives have been turned upside down and we’ve had to come up with entirely new ways of working through our daily lives.

If you had to name the emotions that have dominated this year, you might come up with feelings such as:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Helplessness
  • Hopelessness

If any of those emotions resonate with you, trust me, you’re not alone. Just writing down and acknowledging those emotions makes my heart sink. The extra difficulty that comes with these feelings is how much they weigh us down. I liken them to walking through a murky bog. With each step you take, mud and water sucks your feet down, making the next step harder and sapping your energy until you can hardly move.

While it may not always feel like this, I’d like to offer some hope for better days by sharing one important truth. We all have a unique and wonderful power – the power to choose how we think and feel. The power to choose happiness.

If that statement makes you bristle a bit, know that when I mention this incredible power of choice, I don’t say it lightly. Choosing to be happy is not always as simple as it seems for many reasons and everyone’s needs and journey to that happy place are different. Going back to the emotional bog I mentioned before, for some, choosing happiness can mean that they get sucked out of the bog and fly away. For others, choosing happiness may mean having to take each excruciating step there is to reach the other side.

I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.

– Mae West

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before you can choose to be happy, you have to know the answer to a very important question: What exactly is happiness?

  • The organization, Action for Happiness, says happiness is “the sum total of our feelings about how good our lives are, taking all things into account.”
  • Positive psychologist researcher, Sonja Lyubomirsky, defines happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”
  • The organization, Happiness International, says happiness is “when your life fulfills your needs” and that it’s “a feeling of contentment, that life is just as it should be.”

So…does that clarify things? Maybe not.

That’s because, at the end of the day, happiness is 100% subjective. That means, the best way to answer that question is really to flip it around and ask you – what do you think happiness is?

For me, happiness is knowing what’s important to you and living wholly within that so you feel entirely fulfilled in your body, mind, heart, and soul.

You’ll notice, all of these definitions (including probably your own) are complex. Of course, that’s because happiness is a complex concept. That’s also why it deserves an entire blog dedicated to it, not to mention countless organizations, non-profits, scientific studies, books, and entire professions.

If my definition, or some version of it, resonates with you than you probably recognize that there are several pieces of the definition that require further clarification and thought. For example:

  • Most of us rarely actively define what’s important to us. If you don’t know what your values are, it’s challenging to live them.
  • Even if we think we know what’s important, sometimes our perspective is clouded by family, societal, or even personal pressures.
  • If we truly do understand what’s most important, conflicting obligations may still create distractions that block our path and make it difficult for us to live those values.
  • If we know what’s important to us but we believe we’re lacking that or not capable of having it, that could lead in the opposite direction – to unhappiness.

That’s okay. In future posts, we’ll address those challenges along with many more topics that will get you closer to achieving true happiness. For now, the most important takeaway is that you need to understand what happiness means to you. Consider that definition your North Star.

Below are important questions that will help you gain some clarity. Answer all of them or just the ones that jump out to you.

  • What does happiness mean to you?
  • When have you been at your absolute happiest?
  • Why did that time make you so happy?
  • What would the happiest version of you think like?
  • What would they look like?
  • How would they spend their days?
  • What themes do you notice from your answers?

Need some inspiration as you think about your personal definition of happiness? Try experimenting with emotions that oppose the list that started this post. Emotions such as:

  • Joy
  • Excitement
  • Anticipation
  • Contentment
  • Serenity
  • Love
  • Hope

I don’t know about you but just thinking of those emotions brings a smile to my face. What makes that smile wider is thinking about where those feelings come from. Where do they come from for you? Is it a person, certain circumstances, certain acts?

Answering those and similar questions will bring you that much closer to understanding what makes you truly happy.

I’ll let you in on a secret. It’s also entirely okay if you don’t know how to answer the questions above or if you’re unable to come up with your definition. We’ll get there. In fact, I invite you to shoot me a message if that’s the case. I’d love to hear from you and I’d love to help.

Until then or until my next post, I wish you all some truly happy moments!