We’re two weeks into March and it feels like spring is in the air. I’ve been feeling energized and rejuvenated. But I have a question for you. How are you feeling? How are you really feeling? We don’t ask this question nearly enough. And if we do, we don’t usually expect an honest response. I find myself waiting until someone is sick or not feeling well to ask, “How are you feeling?” Why is that? Why don’t we ask this question, and really mean it, and wait for an answer more often? I usually ask, “How’s it going?” And then hope the person replies, “Good”, and we move on to other things.
Feelings and emotions have been on my mind lately. My daughter, Aria, has a Big Life Journal—can you tell her mom is a positive psychology nerd?—that she fills out each day. One of the entries asks her to circle how she’s feeling. There are four pre-drawn faces ranging from happy to sad, with one left blank. Most days she circles the happy face. Every now and then she draws her own face which looks sort of angry. Feelings are like a news report from our psyche. We need to interpret those reports to see what are they telling us. As adults asking the question, “How are you feeling,” we need to make space for the person to respond. We need to listen with an intensity that shows we really care what the person will tell us.
Why is it so hard for us to really share our feelings? We often want to push them away. Bottling our emotions or brooding over them prevents real growth. It’s like putting your arms straight out and holding books. Eventually your arms start to shake and we drop the books. Brooding, conversely, is like hugging the books to our chest. Eventually our arms cramp up and become rigid and tight. We don’t drop the books, but we find it difficult to release and move on to doing something else more productive.” In Marc Brackett’s book, Permission to Feel, he teaches us to become an “emotion scientist.” An emotion scientist has the ability to pause and say, “What am I reacting to? Do I need a glass of water, or to take a break? Or is there something else going on?”
RULER is the name Marc Brackett gives to developing the key skills to emotional expression: Recognizing emotions in oneself and others. Understanding the causes and consequences of emotion. Labeling emotions with precise words. Expressing emotions, taking context and culture into consideration. Regulating emotions effectively to achieve goals and wellbeing.
To go back to feelings—they’re a news report from our psyche. Emotions fuel our behaviors and feelings drive our responses. If I better understand my emotions and feelings, I am in better control of my behaviors and responses—and that is worth taking time to study.
Who has their ruler ready?