The other day, I spoke to a friend who told me she was in a funk and felt “blah.” Given all we have been through the last few years, it is understandable. As the conversation got deeper, we discovered “blah” meant she felt unfulfilled and overwhelmed. Being able to unpack what “blah” meant and accurately name her emotions led to an immediate action plan.
We talked about her love for writing and how putting her thoughts into words and sharing them through her blog brought her joy and gratification. Setting aside a half-hour a day to devote to writing her blog would offer her a sense of fulfillment, and to manage the overwhelm, she decided to ask her partner for assistance with household chores. Ultimately, resolving her initial feeling of “blah.”
This conversation reminds me that having an extensive emotional vocabulary is essential to developing our level of emotional intelligence. Going beyond noticing when we are feeling ‘off’ or ‘good’ and, instead, precisely describing how and what we feel provides us an opportunity to better understand, connect, and manage our emotions.
When we are distinct with naming our emotions, we benefit from clear insight into how we are genuinely feeling, why we feel that way, and what we should do about it. If it’s a positive emotion, capturing it in words will help us replicate the feeling.
For example, after a colleague thanks you for the hard work you have put into a project, you may label your current emotional state as “happy.” Happiness is a generic emotion that encompasses many other emotions. Here are some words that may lead to the feeling of happiness:
By expanding your emotional vocabulary, you might come to find that, more specifically, you feel thankful, recognized, and accomplished. Based on those specific words, you may ask yourself, “what else makes me feel thankful and accomplished?” “What about being recognized brings me these pleasant emotions?”
We can also learn from unpleasant emotions which hold just as much value (data) but are often mislabeled as “bad” emotions. As Joshua Freedman, CEO of Six Seconds, writes on embracing difficult emotions:
“…There is still a pervasive message: Happiness is good, so if you’re not happy, there’s something wrong. This attitude is fraught with judgment; we’re limiting the motivating power of feelings to a select few. We’re deciding that some emotions are good … which requires that others are bad.
… I’ve come to consider that this vilification of our own emotions is the single biggest obstacle to emotional intelligence.” - Integrated Emotions: Feelings Are Allies • Six Seconds
Freedman stresses the importance of acknowledging all emotions—not just the ones that make us feel giddy and happy—to help steer us towards a fulfilling life.
When we become curious about the source of our unpleasant emotions, we can discover what we need to improve our state of being.
Next time you feel a generic emotion, I encourage you to reference this wheel of feelings created by Bret Stein.
All emotions serve a purpose. The more accurately we can define them, the better we can manage them and understand their origin. That should make us all feel masterful, accomplished, attuned…