“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart”
― Helen Keller
In my opinion, the emotional realm is the strongest dimension of experiences. Humans are emotional creatures. We often behave much more emotionally than we would like to think. Behind the rationalisation of our behaviours, most of our drives are emotionally driven.
Emotions can be experienced briefly or last a long time. They can be felt vividly, and enter the realm of awareness, or develop below the surface of consciousness, but they are still there.
Emotions experienced over a longer life-spawn become moods or states. These moods are determinant in how we experience life from moment to moment, colouring every experience we have thereafter, similar to tinted sunglasses. A mood is self-reinforcing, leading other similar emotions and influencing our future behaviours, in a kind of self-perpetuating feedback loop.
For instance, If you are experiencing feelings of anger, a random kind gesture from a stranger, or a beautiful sunny day may not matter, these stimuli will be filtered out.
However an interaction with a rude person would likely trigger you further. The same holds true for any kind of mood, be it positive or negative.
To simplify, positive moods lead to positive experiences, and negative moods, to negative experiences. More precisely, the interpretation of experiences will change depending on the mood we are in.
In this sense, the ability to regulate negative emotions and to be mostly experiencing life from a good mood will make everything much more enjoyable. Experiences will appear more positive and life-serving. Such positive moods are: peace, joy, love, enthusiasm, fun, play, courage/adventurous spirit, awe, gratitude, kindness, empathy/compassion, connectedness, etc…
The way we are primed is determinant. Have you notice that when you “wake up from the wrong side of the bed” the day does not seem to go as smoothly. It can be hard to come back from a bad morning. It is important that initial experiences are positive so that everything that comes after is influenced positively. Make a point of having time and doing things that you enjoy doing in the morning. It will improve the rest of your day and life tremendously.
If things don’t go according to plan, or an unfortunate event happens, it is good to develop the ability to bounce back, so that we can spend as little time into misery and pain.
It is paramount that we develop the ability to regulate our emotions and our moods, so that we can come to life in a good place, with a positive energy, ready for good experiences.
I talk a lot about regulating emotions on this blog, and trust me, it is a lifelong practice, but here are a few pointers.
The NLPtechnique of anchoring is invaluable when it comes to accessing desired state. Each time you experience a positive state that you would like to experience in the future, make a point of associating it with a place or gesture, so that you can easily slip back into that positive state.
We can cognitively regulate our emotions by developing positive inner language. First it is important to separate ourselves from our emotions and recognise their transient nature. We can say things to ourselves like; “that’s not me, it’s just a passing emotion”.
We can calm ourselves down with whatever words we find comforting such as; “you are ok, you’re safe, I am very calm”etc “you are doing well, etc”
We can reason with ourselves, “Is that something I can control?” “Is it important? will I remember this one year from now”
Of course, developing mindfulness around our emotions is invaluable. Emotions often subside and disappear when we recognise and accept that they are there, instead of ignoring or fighting them.
This allows the “energy” of the emotion, to be liberated and pass. This goes a long way toward developing emotional intelligence.
There are also plenty of ways to reset our biology to get out of a fight or flight stress response. Slowing down our breathing, breathing deeply, especially the exhalastion will activate the parasympathetic nervous system and allow us to relax.
We can sigh and shake it off to release some of our physical tension.
We can do a quick short burst of exercise like star jumps, push ups or whatever else you fancy.
We can literally “cool off” by putting our head under a cold tap.
We can give ourselves a hug, pat ourselves or put on a warm blanket to feel comforted.
When we feel strong emotion we are as if trapped, into a cycle or a pattern. A way of moving on is to try to interrupt that pattern in some ways. This can be anything from taking a time out and walking away, to making a good joke. We can also allow ourselves some time to experience what we’re feeling and then move on.
For example: “I feel angry. Ok, I am going to be angry for the next five minute and then I will let it go and do something else.”
This may sound ridiculous but breaking a pattern is often all that is needed to be free of a prevailing emotion.
We can also reinforce our moods by talking ourselves into it. If we feel excited for exemple, we can reinforce this feeling with our self-language by saying to ourselves, “im so excited” “this is so cool”
Also being in touch with physical sensations, such as being warm, feeling in our chests, feeling our smile, can allow us to increase the momentum of our emotion and experience it more vividly.
Practice these few pointers and see if it makes a difference.
Experience and Needs:
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
― Philip Pullman
As breathing, organic, living organisms, humans have needs. We have needs in order to survive but also to strive. All our behaviours are geared towards fulfilling these needs to the best of our abilities.
Although our needs are not necessarily conscious, the expression and meeting underlies our experience and behaviours. In some ways, enjoyable experiences are just so because they fulfil needs.
If you are one of the lucky and live in a wealthy western society, most of your survival needs are already met. The experiences we seek are often in the service of others needs, such as self-actualisation, recognition, connectedness, meaning, etc.
Experiences that fulfil these needs will therefore be more powerful. Self-actualisation and connectedness can be hard to find in a society that is hyper-distracted, fast-paced, and profit-centric. It is up to us to find inside what we find truly meaningful and rewarding, to seek these experiences and share them with the people we love.
This requires being in touch with our needs, and recognising our vulnerability. We are just humans, we all need help and we are all trying to live as best we can. From the acceptance of our own vulnerability we can become more open to life and to our needs allowing us to connect with our experiences and others more deeply.
The intensity and integration of experiences:
Feelings are much like waves, we cannot stop them from coming, but we can choose which one to surf. Jonatan martensson
Some experiences are very intense. They are so powerful, that we cannot take them in all at once. Our emotional-cognitive-spiritual self has been overloaded and needs time to process.
The aftermath of such experiences leaves an emotional footprint or residue, which takes a while to fully integrate. This integration is often felt through a reliving or re-feeling, a remembrance of the experience, sometimes obsessively. This can be a pleasant experience in itself, if it is about a primary positive experience. If the experience was painful, we call it a grieving process. These experiences may not be fully processed and lead to trauma, or confusion. It is also through this integration that we learn, grow and change as individuals.
Regardless, it is important to recognise that it happens. This acceptance can turn the process of integration into a more pleasant, familiar experience. Having confidence in our ability to integrate also allows us to fully be open to being swept away, in the moment, and experience fully, with strong emotions. We often stop ourselves to fully take life in because it is too much to handle emotionally.
Opening the heart:
“Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.” – Erich Fromm
Positive emotions are the richest flavours of our experiences. Feeling love, connectedness, happiness, joy, fulfilment, gratitude, is what we truly are after. These emotions only happen if we have space for them.
In order to feel positive feelings, we need to be receptive to the good things in life, receptive to ourselves and others. This means having an open heart.
The feeling of gratitude as a self-development hack has become very popular, and with good reason. The reason why, the feeling of gratitude is so powerful for happiness is that it allows us to notice and focus on what we are receiving, it allows us to be receptive. Receptive to our feelings and the good things in our environment and life situation.
Consider this, the only way to feel loved is to feel love. Think about it, was there a time when someone loved you deeply but you were really angry or sad? Did you feel love then? Probably not. So it is not the fact that others love us that makes us feel love.
What about time when you felt love for someone, and they seemed to give it back? That is when love is felt and triggers an array of beautiful emotions in a snowball effect. We need to cultivate emotions within ourselves so that we can take in what’s coming from the outside and be nourished further.
When we open our hearts in order to experience more, it is paramount that we also develop wisdom, and learn to care for ourselves emotionally.
It is common for people that open themselves to be more sensitive to be crushed by the suffering going on in the world, and experience deep sadness and hopelessness. Opening our hearts without developing our mind will also open ourselves to the vicissitudes of life without being safe, like a small bird lost in a heavy storm.
The experience of suffering:
“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”
Life is not always rosy and experiences are not always pleasurable. Childishly, some part of us never wants to be in pain, wants everything to be just perfect all the time, but it is just not the case.
Life is made of highs and lows. We all experience painful moments, of loss, separation, loneliness and suffering.
But pain doesn’t have to be negative, just like pleasure is not necessarily a positive experience.
It is often only afterwards, when we have integrated experiences fully, that we can encompass them with meaning. A hard challenge may have felt painful but shaped our character and given us valuable lessons. Similarly, pleasure as a form of escapism ensnares us deeper into pain in the long run and accentuates our problems. All our experiences have something valuable to teach us if only we are receptive to them.
As we grow older, we have painful experiences and learn to protect ourselves emotionally. we can be drawn toward putting on armor, figuratively speaking, to protect and escape our vulnerability. We draw back from the world and others. We learn to feel less, in order to remain balanced and safe.
In a competitive environment, and in the presence of danger, we learn to hide our weaknesses and show our strengths, to survive and be on top of the pack.
Unfortunately, this also has a price. Although we are safer, we likely also feel less. We connect with others less deeply and intensely. Vulnerability is a risk because we expose ourselves and may get hurt, but we can also be more receptive to our experiences and others. Finding safe ways to be vulnerable, expressing ourselves with candor and curiosity is the only way to remain a life-long student of life, and have a child-like quality of experiences.
The feeling of anticipation:
“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.”
― A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
There are so many feelings related to enjoyable experiences, but I find the feeling of anticipation particularly interesting and worth mentioning here. Anticipation comes from expectations and/or predictions.
Anticipation is a strong feeling about an experience that is yet to happen. To me what is interesting about anticipation is that it becomes an experience in and of itself, within the moment it is felt. It is also an emotion that “changes” the experience of the future, since the anticipated experience will be felt and integrated differently.
There are many terms that describe that feeling of becoming excited, like “can’t wait”, “getting pumped”, “psyching yourself up”.
With our current lenses, the real question is; Does anticipation make for a better experience?
My guess is that the answer is mostly yes but there are definitely some possible drawbacks.
Anticipation can be an umbrella term for other related, but quite distinct states, such as existent, hope, expectancy, anxiety, fear, nervousness. Anticipation is definitely not always positive, in itself, nor for an upcoming event. Anxious people tend to over prepare, and consider every possible scenario out of fear that things will go wrong. They live in the misery of what might happen.
Positive anticipation is the result of a positive projection and/or a prediction, be it accurate or not. There is a certain amount of optimism, otherwise we would not look forward to the event.
With this assumption, I am guessing that there may be a correlation between anticipation and optimism. Is it possible that people who are more optimistic anticipate more? Or in greater level/ amount? I have no idea, but it would be an interesting social experiment.
As we can see, anticipation is a double-edge sword. It has the potential to truly magnify an experience, to transcend the experience through time, and associate a very strong positive state prior to and during the experience.
It can also create pressure, and/or unrealistic expectations that ultimately leads to a lack of openness or flow within the experience, and lead to disappointments.
I think different people experience anticipation differently. For the longest of time, anticipation was not something I experienced. I don’t project all that much, and although I was aware certain things would happen, I would have difficulty feeling emotions related to something that wasn’t there yet. I often would be disconnected to certain plans, and seemed to show lack of enthusiasm. At the same time I would not build expectations and therefore rarely be disappointed.
My wife on the other hand is a very excitable person and highly anticipative. An experience that she has planned for and got ready for in the future really brings her enjoyment in the now. She also seems to experience fully when the event does happen, and seems to gather a great sense of satisfaction from a form of completion. Sometimes though when things don’t go her way she can feel very disappointed.
I believe that like other states, we can accentuate our feeling of anticipation with self-language and reinforcing our feeling.
Are the benefits of anticipation worth its risks? I don’t know. I certainly feel that my wife has influenced me to anticipate more and I enjoy more as a result. I do believe there is a sweet spot, when one can anticipate without expectancy, to fully enjoy. That probably comes with wisdom.
I hope that you enjoyed reading about my take on this dimension of our experience and that it was valuable to you. I’d love to hear from you and read your comments if you have any feedback.
All the best