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The following is an excerpt from Emotional Advantage: Embracing All Your Feelings to Create a Life You Love.
*Editor’s Note: Here at Elephant, we’re notorious bookworms—we love them, and want you to love them, too. But, recently, we found out books are evil—one of the worst things for the environment. Before you buy your next book, read this and this. Keep reading, but read responsibly.
Have you ever had an emotion that hijacked your mind, and you didn’t know where it came from or what to do about it?
Have you ever felt that diving into that emotion was something you would rather not do at that moment?
Join the human race!
We don’t have a problem with the emotions we approve of: happiness, acceptance, desire, and love—bring ‘em on. It’s the other side of the emotional spectrum that bothers us: the iceberg of fear, the flames of anger, the cave of despair.
How fast can we run?
It’s hard enough to live through these challenging emotions, never mind make sense of them. And it’s not like they wait patiently to be looked at either—emotions change dramatically from one minute to the next. Sure, we are supposed to “be” with our emotions, but for most people, they would rather be anywhere but.
I know this feeling well. For so many years, I favored the “happy” side. I was the optimistic one, the one who found solutions to every problem, and the one who could find the good in every situation. But that all changed one day, sitting at the kitchen table with my teenager, who said to me, “Mom, I’m stressed out, I want to be happy, I just don’t know how.” Every cell in my body ached to help, but every “solution” I tried to offer did not resonate even one bit. I sought out experts only to discover that, according to the World Health Organization, depression is now the leading cause of suffering worldwide. That means in our own backyard, and in every country globally, women, men, and children are suffering.
And the thing is, we’re not talking about it nearly enough; the stigma is still real.
The stigma and the accompanying silence are territories that I do know well. My grandfather had been suicidal, my mom had chronic depression, and on my dad’s side of the family, my aunt was schizophrenic. My sister deals with that, too. Every family has its issues, and, of course, I was not immune. So you can imagine after the conversation around the kitchen table, my inner alarms were piercingly loud. While I was a child, I was in no position to help my mother, but now that I was a mom myself, I would do anything to help my child.
This ignited a spark in me to do something, not only to help my own family but kids all over the globe. With a background in film, I produced “Project Happiness,” a documentary bringing together young people from the U.S., Nigeria, and Tibet to find answers for one question: what is happiness. They interviewed George Lucas, Richard Gere, neuroscientist Richard Davidson, and met with the Dalai Lama at his home in Dharamsala, India.
That led to a book to teach kids positive psychology, mindfulness, and the neuroscience of happiness, and to founding a nonprofit that provides curriculum for K-5, middle school, and high school that has been utilized digitally in 120 countries. As suicides infiltrate the news, along with school shootings and massive anxiety at all levels, I feel more passionate than ever to share these materials to inspire kids and adults everywhere to develop their inner resources. My own journey took me on a mission to learn the tools I would later share with others, like gratitude, mindset, emotional resiliency, and the power of identifying your strengths—and I am grateful for every step along the way.
It’s so important, even necessary, to know that happiness is not just a state, it’s a skill that we can all develop. I have seen that to be true and the science backs it up. But something in my heart felt that there was more. What about those spiraling worries at 3 a.m.; what about the anger that flares at unexpected times; what about the sadness that drifts in like a dark cloud? Are there any skills that could be learned to navigate those emotions, the ones we do not consider as “socially acceptable,” especially in a culture that values appearance over authenticity?
As I delved into the subject, it was amazing to discover that each emotion had its own brand of wisdom. The word “emotion” comes from the Latin word emotere, which literally means “energy in motion.” Emotions, whether considered “positive” or “negative,” are packed not only with energy, but a lot of information. Though I will use the words emotions and feelings interchangeably in the book, in the same way we do in real life, there is actually a distinction.
Neuroscientist Antonio D’Amasio states that emotions are the signals that happen inside the body itself, “an automated response to take care of a danger or opportunity.” This often happens spontaneously and without our awareness. Feelings are sparked by emotions but occur in our minds, from the thoughts and images associated with an emotion. According to D’Amasio, feelings are “the process of perceiving what is going on in the organism (yourself) when you are in the throes of an emotion. Because we have feelings and because feelings can actually stay in memory, then we have a possibility of using feelings of certain emotions for future planning. It helps us construct a view of the world and take that into consideration when we plan future events.” This awareness opens up an important opportunity.
What if we could actually use our emotions and feelings as a pathway to guide us back to our inner compass? What if, like alchemists, we had the tools to transform every emotion to recalibrate us toward creating our very best life? If instead of hijacking us and taking us off-course, they could be touchstones to help reconnect us with our true nature? What if we could comprehend how even the most troublesome emotions and feelings are sending messages to alert, protect, and fuel us forward?
The challenge of our times is not only what we can achieve on the outside, but how we can connect with our deepest core self on the inside. We are here to experience the vastness and breadth of life, including our inner landscapes. This can only come from engaging fully with all the emotions—and understanding how to work with them, rather than pretending they don’t exist. Then we can use them skillfully, instead of having them take us on a wild ride.
One thing for sure is that each and every person is more powerful than they know, and the more we understand about how we think, act, and relate, the better we will do in life. This is not only helpful for ourselves but ripples out to the people we love and care about, our communities, and into our world. All emotions are contagious.
In this time of escalating anxiety and confusion, we need more than ever to take charge of our lives. Understanding the tough emotions as well as the easier ones gives us the clarity, fuel, and energy to reveal who we really are, beyond the frustrations, the judgments, and the fears. Each emotion has the power to bring us back to our true essence. As Marcus Aurelius once said, “The impediment to action advances the action—what stands in the way becomes the way.”
This book was written to give you a new way of looking at your emotions’ hidden gifts as well as your own.