Psychology & Life

Psychology & Life

STRESS AND WELLBEING -1

NOV 12

In this article, the author explains one of the main causes for emotional and physical distress: stress. We need to understand what it is, what causes it, and how to deal with it. We cannot live in a world without stress, but we can learn to understand its causes and negative impact, and pick up healthy ways of managing it.

“I am so stressed out. I feel exhausted. Can you give some advice?” my friend Thomas told me. “No wonder you are exhausted,” I said. “You are working too hard. And you are a perfectionist!”

Stress is commonplace in today’s society. Modern life is full of hassles, deadlines, frustrations, and demands. For many of us, stress is so commonplace that it has become a way of life. And it takes its silent toll on us, physically and emotionally.

Stress has a significantly negative effect on our wellbeing.Stress affects our health in many ways, because it affects nearly every system in the body. It is said that stress today contributes to 90% of all diseases. Stress is said to be linked to the six leading causes of death—heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide. Today it is most likely that more people will die from stress-related illness than from infection, accidents, violence or warfare.

It is not only physical health that stress affects. Stress takes a heavy emotional toll too, with consequent negative impact on relationships and peace of mind. Stress, for example, affects marital relationships in significant negative ways and is often a major contributor to increasing divorce rates.

However, stress is not always bad. Some level of stress is essential for optimum performance. In small doses, it can help us perform under pressure and motivate us to do our best. Stress is elevation in our arousal state. If we are not sufficiently aroused in our energy and enthusiasm level, we cannot perform well. At optimum level, stress helps us stay focused, energetic, and alert.

WHAT IS STRESS?

The pioneer in stress research and the one who popularised the term is Nobel Prize nominee Hans Selye. He conceptualised stress as existing in the individual’s body as a specific set of biological conditions that occur as a response to an event or situation that is making demands on it. He defined stress as “the nonspecific result of any demand upon the body, be the effect mental or somatic.” Calling it “nonspecific” is simply to say that the response pattern is always biochemically the same regardless of the nature of the stressor. Bodies respond to all types of threat situations in a similar way

The “Fight or Flight” Response

Stress is basically the system in a state of arousal. The body’s reaction to a stressor is a remnant of the evolutionary adaptive mechanism developed by our ancestors. Our cave-dwelling ancestor had two options upon finding himself face-to-face with a growling tiger ready to pounce on him: he could fight off the attack, or he could run for dear life. To do either, his body had to be able to prime itself—within seconds—to do more than was normally expected of it. This was termed the “fight or flight” response, a term first used by the biologist Walter Cannon in1929. “Stress response” is another name for the same. The stress response is the body’s way of preparing us to deal with a perceived threat, and in that way protecting us

According to Cannon, during the “fight or flight,” the body’s stress response is triggered  and minifests itself in  the  following ways:

  • Stored sugar and fats are released into the bloodstream to provide quick energy;
  • The heart pumps faster to provide more blood to the muscles;
  • The breathing rate is increased to provide more oxygen to the blood;
  • Blood-clotting mechanisms are activated to protect against possible injury;
  • Muscles tense in preparation for action;
  • Digestion ceases so that more blood is available to the brain and muscles;
  • Perspiration increases to help reduce body temperature;
  • The pupils of the eyes dilate and the senses of smell and hearing become more acute.

These biological and somatic phenomena can help us deal with an emergency. However, when the body remains always in this emergency mode of high arousal, it affects our physical and emotional health. Normally, when the threat perception recedes, so too do  bodily arousal and the phenomena described above. However, when the arousal does not recede, that is, if the threat perception becomes chronic, we are in trouble. The Parasympathetic Nervous system (PNS) or the relaxation response does not kick in, keeping the body in a chronic state of high arousal. Under constant stress, the body is no longer able to adapt and exhaustion ensues. The body wears out. The constant state of high arousal leads to immune system deterioration with consequent negative impact on physical and mental functioning.

STRESS AND ILLNESS

Wellbeing and illness are both significantly influenced by the immune system in the body. Stress appears to impact the immune system negatively, lowering its capacity to ward off disease.

For example, it has been found that students reported more infectious illness during high-stress examination period than during the low-stress pre-examinations periods. Psychological stress has also been found to be associated with an increased risk of common cold, a risk that is related to increased rates of infection. A vast majority of hospital visits are related to stress-born diseases.

More recent research has highlighted the role of stress in major illnesses. As mentioned earlier, stress is today considered to be linked to the leading causes of death, such as heart disease and cancer. Stress is a major cause of suicide.

Stress leads to sleeplessness, which in turn leads to increases in blood pressure, cortisol and glucose levels, depressed mood, and  impaired cognitive functions.

Stress contributes to disease also because it leads to behaviours that have a deleterious effect on health.. Stress increases alcohol consumption and drug abuse and intake of food and drinks, as these help decrease tension or discomfort. However, they also make the body more vulnerable to disease.

SYMPTOMS OF STRESS

Our body is designed to give us warnings of stress overload. But we may not pay attention. Rather we may see these warning signs as obstacles on our achievement path and seek to remove them rather than address the realities of which they are warnings. These include physical warning signs such as inability to shake of a lingering cold, frequent headaches, feelings of fatigue, gastrointestinal disorders and sleeplessness and such emotional and behavioural signs as angry outbursts, obvious impatience or irritability, anxiety.

Psychologists have presented warning signs or symptoms of stress under four categories: cognitive, emotional, physical and behaviours:

Cognitive symptoms of stress: Memory problems, inability to concentrate, poor judgment, seeing only the negative, anxious or racing thoughts, constant worrying.

Emotional symptoms of stress: Moodiness, irritability or short temper, agitation, inability to relax, feeling overwhelmed, sense of loneliness and isolation, depression or general unhappiness.

Physical symptoms of stress: Aches and pains, diarrhoea or constipation, nausea, dizziness, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, loss of sex drive, frequent colds.

Behavioural symptoms of stress: Eating more or less, sleeping too much or too little, isolating oneself from others, procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities, use of alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax, nervous habits (e.g., nail biting, pacing).

It is important to note here that these signs and symptoms of stress can also be caused by other psychological and medical problems, and not just though stress.

Next month, I shall describe the major stressors (what causes stress) and stress busters (remedies for stress).

Quesitons for Reflections:

  • What symptoms of stress are you experiencing? How are you handling these symptoms?
  • Are you aware of the sources of your stress? What do you plan to do to eliminate these?

Fr Jose Parappully SDB

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Psychology & Life

CREATIVITY AND WELLBEING

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Creativity contributes to emotional health and wellbeing. Psychologists in general are agreed on this. To quote one, Dean Simonton, professor at the University of California, Davis, specializing in the study of creativity, considers creativity not only “a sign of mental health and emotional well-being” but also one of the “very special ways human beings can display optimal functioning.” Creativity has been associated with psychological richness and cognitive complexity and enhanced well-being—both physically and psychologically.

Who are creative geniuses? Creative individuals are men and women who are able to think out of the box, who do not follow convention, and who are prepared to take risks and venture into the unknown … and come up with valuable novel ideas, theories or products that enrich society.

WHAT IS CREATIVITY?

Psychologists have reached a general agreement that creativity involves the production of “novel, useful products.” Robert Sternberg, professor of Human Development at Cornell University and author of many works on creativity, describes it as the production of “something original and worthwhile.” Simonton describes it as “the capacity to produce ideas that are both original and adaptive”—that is, ideas that are both new and useful.

The original and novel item produced may be intangible, such as an idea, a scientific theory, even  a joke, or a physical object such as an invention, or a literary or artistic work, such as a painting or a piece of music.

Creativity involves divergent rather than convergent thinking. Convergent thinking involves aiming for a single, correct solution to a problem; divergent thinking involves generation of multiple possible answers to a set problem.

According to Simonton, creativity requires “primary process” thinking, as opposed to ‘secondary process” thinking. Primary process thought is more primitive than “secondary process” thought.  While secondary process is devoted to conscious, logical, and realistic reasoning, primary process is replete with fantasy, imagination, irrationality, and unconscious motives.

CHARACTERISTICS OF CREATIVE PEOPLE

There are some typical qualities that characterize creative individuals. According to Simonton, creative people tend to be autonomous, independent, courageous and even bohemian (meaning: living a very carefree life, with little regard for social expectations and conventions). They are willing to let go off the tried and the tested. They have wide interests and show great openness to new experiences. They have the capacity to take risks, to try new ways of living and working. They think freely, and are less conventional in their thinking. They trust their own judgment and follow their internal convictions. They are flexible in their attitudes and behaviour. They have a greater tolerance for ambiguity and a greater acceptance of the many paradoxical facets of human nature. They are curious and open to experimentation and exploratory play.

any creative individuals are good at multi-tasking. They work on several issues simultaneously. They work on an issue for a while and then allow it lie to dormant for a while and move on to actively focus on another issue. Meanwhile, the earlier issue is incubating in the unconscious which begins to fabricate connections and possibilities until suddenly from nowhere a creative solution or a discovery emerges. This process of active engagement and incubation aids the creative process.

CREATIVITY AND ENVIRONMENT

Although we are inclined to consider creative activity to be an individual matter, Simonton points out that it often takes place in a social context. Creativity has its roots in a supportive yet demanding home environment. Creative people usually have parents who set high standards of achievement. At the same time, they are also quite permissive, allowing their children much freedom to experiment and take risks.

Most creative persons also have a supportive and highly skilled mentor in their chosen field of interest. They often work in fields unexplored by others. Exceptionally creative people devote almost all of their time and energy into their area of interest. Here is it is relevant to recall the words of the great physicist Albert Einstein: “Genius is ninety percent perspiration and ten percent inspiration.”

CREATIVITY IN THE FORMATION SETTING

The role of challenging situations in fostering creativity has implications, especially for the formation setting. For creativity to blossom and mature in the candidates to priesthood or religious life, the environment of the formation house or seminary has to be challenging. Candidates have to face situations that demand effort and enterprise. They have to be pushed farther and higher than they think they are capable of. Lack of challenge produces mediocrity. More than half (52%) of the formators who participated in sociologist Paul Parathazham’s study on religious formation acknowledged that current formation programmes are not demanding enough. Almost half (49%) felt the formation environment is too sheltered. Forty-one per cent stated that there is too much emphasis on conformity. Clearly, the bar has to be raised in terms of standards candidates are expected to reach.

Another important aspect of creativity which also has special relevance for priestly and religious formation is that divergent experiences facilitate creativity. Exposure to a variety of experiences expands the mind, taking us out of the rigid confines of a limited and narrow life. Such exposure not only allows creative juices to flow, but also broadens our perspectives and brings flexibility in thinking and attitudes. Unfortunately, the current formation process, in many cases, prefers regimentation and conformity. Thinking that is divergent from, and especially opposed to, traditional beliefs and practices, is not usually encouraged in the formation setting. Experiences available to formees are also, in many cases, very limited.

CREATIVITY AND ADVERSITY

Another aspect to be kept in mind, especially in the context of formation of priests and religious, is that creativity is promoted by adversity. Some of the most creative people ion the world were reared in unusually adverse childhood situations. Psychologists Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who explore optimum human performance, have found that creativity is fostered by “challenging experiences that help strengthen a person’s capacity to persevere in the face of obstacles.” Ellen Winner, a psychologist who has studied the profiles of artists and innovators, has pointed out that the experience of childhood stress and trauma is a major characteristic of highly creative people. Two other noteworthy characteristics of these persons, according to Winner, are these: “They are rebellious. They have the desire to alter the status quo.” Neither of these characteristics, unfortunately, are generally appreciated or fostered in formation settings.

A really inspiring true story of creativity in the midst of adversity is that of Steve Jobs. He is considered an icon of creativity in the world of information technology because of his creations—Apple Computers, the iPod, the iPhone and the I-Pad, devises which have revolutionized ways people work and communicate. But many may not know that he was dismissed from the company which he had founded. He would later say that this was the best thing that happened to him. It forced him to start from scratch, and invent new things. Soon after, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which doctors thought inoperable. Against such odds, the man went on to become one of the world’s most admired creative geniuses, exceeding existing benchmarks of performance by miles. Jobs shared stories of adversity and creativity in a much appreciated Commencement speech at Stanford University some years ago. He has left a great legacy for Apple Computers and an inspiring personal story of creativity emerging from adversity.

Creative geniuses often pay a steep price—but they make a huge difference to people’s lives.

For reflection:

  • Who are the really creative people you know? What makes them creative?
  • How can the environment of our families and formation houses be more supportive of the creative process?

 

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Psychology & Life

Is Your Life Meaningful?

AUGUST 9

Meaning matters—for our emotional and even physical well-being. How do we find it? The author shares relevant insights from psychology—including a study of parents whose children were murdered.  Could they construct a meaningful life after such horrendous tragedy?

“I don’t find any meaning in my life. I wonder why I am living like this—just drearily surviving from day to day. Sometimes I wish I were dead,” said the 28-year old Kamala during a personal meeting during a seminar.

 

Kamala is not the only one who feels this way. There are many like her who find it difficult to experience a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Quite a few of these gradually sink into clinical depression and think of ending their life—and even attempt to do so.

Recent research on health and happiness show that a sense of meaning in life is one of the major contributors to emotional and physical wellbeing. Emotionally healthy persons find life a meaningful adventure. They have something that gives meaning and significance to their life, such as a belief system, a dream, a commitment. According to the pioneering personality psychologist, Gordon Allport, “one of the key challenges to maturity is to invest daily life with meaning—to find or create opportunities to make our lives matter.”

Dreams and goals matter—especially intrinsic goals

To make our lives matter, we need to have dreams, something we feel passionate about and pursue with interest. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist…


Fr. Jose Parappully SDB

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Psychology & Life

WHO AM I REALLY?

MAY 5

“Who am I really?” This is a question all of us ask ourselves sometime in our life. Some of us find an answer, others continue to keep asking the question. Jesus was asked this question, and He asked his close friends who they thought He was.

Emotionally healthy persons tend to have clear and convincing answers to the question “Who am I?”

In psychoanalyst Erik Erikson’s developmental schema, “identity formation” is the crucial task to be accomplished during adolescence. But we can struggle with issues of identity all through life.

Personality psychologist Dan McAdams presented identity as an evolving story that integrates a reconstructed past, a perceived present, and an anticipated future into a coherent and vitalising life myth. Our personal life myth “is a special kind of story that each of us naturally constructs to bring together the different parts of ourselves and our lives into a purposeful and meaningful whole.” In other words, when we achieve identity, we are able to bring together all of our past experiences, current realities and future goals and aspirations to create a picture of who we are and who we want to be.

Erikson described three significant ways in which identity formation can fail. These are identity foreclosure, identity confusion and negative identity. It is useful to understand these failures.

FORECLOSED IDENTITY

Identity foreclosure is a premature (without much reflection or soul-searching) resolution of the identity issue. We can slip easily into a role expected of us by family or community. We may not in any way identify with this role or find it meaningful. But the internalisation of the expectation of others, a process which is often unconscious, pushes us into identity foreclosure. A sense of dissatisfaction and lack of fulfilment, often with no knowledge of its source, is the result.

This was the case of Fr. Conrad. He grew up in a very religious family. His father had wanted to be a priest. But family circumstances demanded that he put aside that dream. However, he wanted to relive that dream though his son. In both subtle and overt ways, he encouraged Conrad to pursue an ecclesiastical career, even though what
Conrad really wanted was to pursue a career in finance. Five years after his ordination Conrad left the priesthood and joined an insurance company and later moved into a banking career.

NEGATIVE IDENTITY

A negative identity develops when we conform to an image of us that is contrary to family or cultural ideals but which is projected on to us by the same family or community. For example, the family may not approve the way we are living or of our life choices and label us as the “black sheep” of the family. In such a situation we may strive hard to prove the family right by living up to that negative label, adopting and engaging more and more in behaviours that are socially disapproved. Or, while in school, a teacher might ridicule us describing us as “good for nothing.” We might then adopt behaviours that fit the label and really turn out to be a good for nothing. We sabotage our own welfare and happiness and hurt ourselves by going out of our way to prove our detractors right.

Negative identity can develop also from idealisation of or identification with someone devalued by family or community but who we idealise. For example, in our childhood or youth we may have idealised an uncle or an aunt whom we loved very much and wanted to be like. It happened that this beloved uncle or aunt was also an alcoholic. As we grow up we may also identify with our uncle’s or aunt’s alcoholism and ourselves become alcoholic.

IDENTITY CONFUSION

Identity confusion occurs when we are unable to make up our minds as to who we are or who we want to be. We are unable to make a commitment to any single view of ourselves. This may be because we are caught up in conflicting values or lack the confidence to make meaningful and lasting decisions. Young religious who are unable to decide if they want to make their perpetual profession or not, provide a relevant example. They keep postponing a decision.

ACHIEVED IDENTITY

A healthy and positive resolution of the task of identity formation leads to identity achievement. The pathway to identity achievement is through role experimentation. Erikson termed this period of free experimentation of various roles and identities before a final identity is achieved psycho-social moratorium. Before we make a final choice of what we want to be, we need to look carefully at and even experiment with various options by living them out for a period—in fantasy or reality. We have to do some real soul-searching about who we want to be and what we want to do, and then make definitive choices.

According to Erikson, identity achievement moves us toward becoming and functioning as well-adjusted adults, with a fine balance of love and work—forming healthy relationships and engaging in meaningful and constructive activities. We become creative and productive, and contribute to the welfare of society.

IDENTITY AND FORMATION

It is quite likely that many candidates to religious and priestly life, especially those who joined as adolescents, are in identity foreclosed status. They may not have given enough attention to role experimentation. One of the important tasks of formation is to provide them opportunities for such experimentation, and not just to help them confirm the choices they have made, perhaps prematurely.

Sometimes we come across priests and religious who do not seem to have any opinion of their own. In answering questions, or when asked for an opinion, they tend to quote a document or the words of a superior. Lack of an opinion of our own or over-reliance on the opinion or expertise of others is often a symptom of a lack of a strong sense of identity.

LIFE-LONG PROCESS

Although Erikson postulated that identity formation is something that happens in adolescence, recent theory and research show that individuals engage in a lifelong process of identity formation. Thus, even if we have had a strong sense of achieved identity for a considerable period of our lives, we can still shift back into identity confusion, often triggered by new and unexpected experiences or developments in our lives. Such falling back is a positive thing, because we can now do further soul-searching and re-confirm our identity or choose a new one and move toward a deeper level of identity achievement. For example, a priest or religious who falls in love in mid-life, may move into identity confusion, even if he or she had achieved a clear sense of identity earlier. Such falling in love leads him or her to ask some fundamental questions about who they want to be. A decision made after struggling with these questions can strengthen and consolidate one’s identity or help choose a new identity that seems more in keeping with one’s deepest desires.

KNOW YOUR DEEP LONGINGS

We develop a deeper sense of our identity when we take time to confront ourselves. Such deeper sense of identity does not come from the external realities or the roles we play. It comes from recognising our deepest desires and longings and the dynamics operating behind our conscious selves.

Such an encounter with our deeper self occurs only in the depths of solitude. One of the areas candidates to religious life and priesthood have to be trained in is precisely this. They have to be trained to immerse themselves in and be comfortable with consciously and deliberately chosen solitude, especially in this age of instant communications and easily available media distractions, so that they can encounter themselves in greater depth and honesty. Creating an ambience conducive to such solitude is an important task of religious and priestly formation.

For Reflection

  • Have I struggled with issues of identity? If yes, in what way?
  • What is my current identity status: foreclosed, negative, confused, or achieved? What makes me conclude this?
  • Am I in touch with my deepest longings?
  • Do I see the value of solitude and use it to know myself more in depth?

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Psychology & Life

RESILIENCE

11

Thriving Despite Adversity

Mr. Rajan’s story in the previous column was not just about hope; it was also about resilience – the capacity to thrive despite adversity, to bounce back from setbacks, from trauma and tragedy and being able to live at even greater levels of wellbeing and satisfaction than before, that is, to flourish.

Resilient people, like the proverbial phoenix, are able to rise up literally from the ashes of their destructive or painful experience and thrive again.

The remarkable restoration and growth of the city of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and the resulting fires which gutted almost the entire city, and the ability of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to rise again from the ashes of nuclear devastation are classic examples of resilience.

So also is the remarkable story of Steve Jobs, an icon in the IT industry. Co-founder of Apple, he was the creative genius behind the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. But many may not know that he was dismissed from the company which he had founded. The experience did not break him, rather it forced him to reinvent himself. He would later say that this was the best thing that happened to him. It forced him to start again from scratch and invent new things.

Soon after, Steve Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which doctors thought inoperable. Against such odds, the man went on to become one of the world’s most admired creative geniuses, exceeding existing benchmarks of performance by miles.

Steve Jobs did not allow setbacks to dishearten him, rather he used them as stepping stones to climb greater heights. He was resilient.[1]

RESILIENCE IS NOT JUST RECOVERY

Resilience is not just about rising from the ashes. It is also about the capacity to maintain high levels of resistance to stressful events. According to psychologist Bonanno, an expert in the study of resilience, it enables us to endure upheavals remarkably well, with no apparent disruption in our ability to function and to move on to new challenges with apparent ease.

According to Bonanno, in contrast to recovery, which connotes a breakdown in normal functioning following trauma or loss, leading to high levels of distress or even psychopathology and then gradually returning to pre-event levels, resilience reflects the ability to maintain a stable equilibrium in the face of adversity.

When we are resilient, even when we experience a potentially highly disruptive event, we are able to maintain relatively stable, healthy levels of psychological and physical functioning. We show resilience through our capacity to respond flexibly and adaptively to adverse situations.

As resilient persons we are not broken by suffering; rather, we experience difficulties and obstacles as opportunities to grow. We not only bounce back from setbacks, we also grow and develop through these experiences just as Steve Jobs and many great artists, were able to do.

CONTRIBUTORS TO RESILIENCE

What leads to resilience?

Psychologists have identified certain areas of competence that lay the foundation for resilience. These are some of the contributors to health and happiness described in previous columns. Among these are: secure attachments; interpersonal competence, including the ability to recruit help; cognitive competence to plan; emotional competencies, especially the capacity to regulate emotions, delay gratification, and maintain high levels of hope, optimism and self-esteem; grateful living, and having meaning and purpose in life.

According to some psychologists, having meaning and purpose in life is the core competency that contributes to resilience. As Nietzsche is said to have observed, “If you have a WHY to live for, you can live any HOW.” That is, if we have a meaningful purpose in life, we can face and triumph over any adversity.

Viktor Frankl used Nietzsche’s words as inspiration to survive the horrors of the Auschwitz concentration camp. He kept constantly before him a reason to get out of the camp alive—to  re-join with his wife. As a result, he alone of his batch of inmates survived to tell his story and become a celebrity after the war, while all the others perished in the camp.

A strong sense of purpose helps us face adverse circumstances more positively. According to psychologists McKnight and Kashdan, purpose in life facilitates “psychological flexibility”; serves “as the motivating force to overcome obstacles”; “leads to more productive cognitive, behavioural, and physiological activity” and “lower stress levels and greater satisfaction with life.”

Faith and attendance at religious services have been found to foster resilience. The world views provided by faith contribute to purposefulness and meaningfulness, offer support in difficult times, and the strength to triumph over adversity.

As Emmons, a psychologist who researches the impact of religion and spirituality on wellbeing, has observed, “Religion and spirituality can provide a unifying philosophy of life and serve as an integrating and stabilising force in the face of constant environmental and cultural pressures that push for fragmentation, particularly in post-modern cultures.”

MENTORS AND ROLE MODELS

Every research that has explored the variables that have contributed to resilience, especially to flourishing after a dysfunctional childhood, has found one common variable that has led to positive outcome. This was the presence of an empathic other, usually a loving aunt or uncle or a dedicated and sensitive teacher, who became a mentor and a role model and whose care and support made up for deficiencies and enabled the individual to find meaning and purpose in life and triumph over tragedy.

One sensitive and caring individual can make a profound difference in the life of another, no matter how dismal or dysfunctional his or her life experiences might have been. Each of us can become that empathic other and transform lives.

Resilience literature shows that many of the characteristics of emotionally healthy persons, some of which we have considered in previous columns, are subsumed under resilience. Resilience can thus be considered a master contributor to health and happiness.

For reflection

  • How resilient are you? 
  • How do you generally handle adversities? 
  • Have you been able to thrive after some tragedy? If yes, what helped you? 
  • What is the level of meaningfulness you experience in your life? How can you enhance meaningfulness in life? 
  • Can you recall an empathic other who has touched your life profoundly?

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[1] You can read Steve Job’s Commencement Speech at Stanford University in which he shared stories of adversity and resilience at : http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html


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Psychology & Life

Hope, Health and Happiness

03

In this article, the author explains how a hopeful and optimistic attitude promotes happiness and even better physical health.

Through careful planning and years of hard work, Rajan, 47, had built up a thriving textile business.  He had just invested a good amount of money to improve his facilities when an accidental fire destroyed all that he had built up. He was devastated.

The fire gutted his business, but not his spirit. Recovering from the shock, he was determined to rebuild his business. He was confident he could do it. Instead of brooding and lamenting over his loss, he set about finding ways and means. He first approached the insurance company. He was told it would take some time before he would be reimbursed.

He then approached a bank for loans. It refused. He went to another … and another, and kept going from bank to bank. They all refused. He realized he was not going to get the loans he needed. But he did not give up. He knew he would find a way.

And that way was selling his large house and surrounding land and moving into a small apartment with his family. With the money from the sale, he started his business again on a very small scale. Meanwhile he received remuneration from the insurance company. Slowly the business expanded and today ten years later, his business ventures are thriving.

Rajan lived with hope. He believed he would succeed and he worked hard to make his dream come true.

Hope is the conviction of having a meaningful future despite obstacles and also choosing the path to make that future real.

Persons high on hope have visions of who they want to be and what they want to accomplish in life and are able to motivate themselves; they feel resourceful accomplishing their objectives.

Hope and optimism go together. Optimism provides us with a faith that the future is going to be bright, that we can accomplish our goals, whatever they may be. When in a tight spot, we reassure ourselves that things will get better.

Hope includes practical pathways to realize the bright future we envisage. We persist in seeking goals despite setbacks and obstacles. We are also flexible enough to find different ways to get to our goals or to switch goals, if needed.

Two types of thinking

This is the understanding of hope provided by C. R. Snyder, the leading psychologist exploring hope. Snyder and his colleagues have come up with what they call the “Hope Theory.” The theory holds that hope involves two types of thinking: agency thinking and pathway thinking.

Agency thinking refers to an individual’s determination to achieve his or her goals despite possible obstacles; pathway thinking refers to the ways in which an individual believes she or he can achieve these personal goals.

Agency thinking reflects the self-referential thoughts of success in one’s endeavor. High-hope persons embrace such self-talk phrases as “I can do this” and “I am not going to be stopped.”

Pathways thinking involves generating an effective route to a desired goal. When that route does not bear the desired fruit, high-hope persons are able to create alternate routes and persist until desired outcomes are realized. Hope calls for will power, says Snyder.

Not wishful thinking

Hope, thus, is not mere wishful thinking, an illusion. It is real. It involves having goals and working towards realization of those goals, despite obstacles. Hope calls for determination and commitment. Hope was aptly expressed in Barack Obama’s famous election slogan. “Yes, We Can!” But then he had an army of committed volunteers working hard to make the dream come true.

The twin dimensions of hope presented by Snyder and colleagues – agency thinking and pathway thinking – are illustrated in the beautiful Gospel story of healing of the woman with the hemorrhages (Mark, 5, 24-35). This woman, who had been suffering from chronic hemorrhages over a period of years, had spent her life savings on doctors in hope of healing, but with little positive outcome. Yet, she did not give up. She persisted in her hope that she would be healed. She took an alternate pathway to healing. She believed that if she could touch Jesus’s garment she would be healed. In spite of the hurdles before her, she made her way to Jesus and touched the hem of his garment. And she was healed.

Benefits of hope

A large body of research shows that hope promotes health and happiness. Hope buffers people against a number of physical and mental problems and helps people heal faster and easier. Individuals who maintain high levels of hope when battling illness significantly enhance their chances of recovery. They remain appropriately energized and focused on what they need to do in order to recuperate. Persons with high hope also engage in more preventative behaviors (i.e., physical exercise) than those with low hope.

Research shows that optimistic persons are less prone to depression, anxiety and anger, and more likely to experience life satisfaction, positive physical and mental health, self-esteem, ability to adapt and cope in various situations and longer life.

One research that followed 1,300 men in their 60s over a ten-year period found that the more optimistic men were about half as likely to develop heart disease as the more pessimistic men.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana assessed the cardiovascular health of more than 5,100 adults aged 45 to 84. They had participants complete surveys about their mental health, levels of optimism and physical health. It was found that the most optimistic participants were twice more likely to be in far better cardiovascular health than their pessimistic counterparts. Optimists had also significantly lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Studies have also shown that a health care professional’s positive expectations that raise the patient’s level of hope can have a concrete impact on the health of the patient.

Why placebo works

Hope is a major ingredient in “placebo’ studies. In such studies one group of people are made to believe that they are being given a very effective treatment (when in reality they are not), while another group is actually given an effective treatment. Results often show that both groups benefit. It was the belief (hope) that they would benefit that led to improvement in the first group.

In general, people who possess hope and think optimistically have a greater sense of wellbeing, in addition to the improved health outcomes outlined above. Hope evokes positive emotions and reduces negative ones. Hope has been found to release endorphins which create a pleasurable mood and a feeling of wellbeing.

Hope is a high motivator and facilitates success in one’s endavours. Hope has been found to relate to higher achievement test scores among students. Athletes with high as compared with low hope perform significantly better in their events.

Living hopefully, thus, leads to health and happiness as well as success in life. It would be worthwhile for us to cultivate hope which calls for fighting a pessimistic outlook on life and developing optimistic attitudes and working persistently toward goal realization.

INTROSPECTION

  • Do I generally have an optimistic or pessimistic outlook on life?
  • Do I easily give up when I face obstacles, or do I persist in my efforts until I succeed?
  • Do I tend to persist with unsuccessful pathways or to create new pathways that will lead to success?

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Psychology & Life

WANT TO BE HAPPY? BE GENEROUS!

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An extraordinary story of generosity is that of P. Kalyanasundarm from Tamil Nadu, now 75, who was given the rare title of “Man of the Millennium.”

What is best known about Mr. Kalyanasundaram is that he donated to charitable causes his entire salary from the first day of starting his job as librarian at Kumarkurupara Arts College at Srivaikuntam, Tamil Nadu, till the last day of his service. He also gave away his entire pension money to charity. To sustain his own simple life style Mr. Kalyanasundaram worked as a waiter/cleaner in a local restaurant and did other sundry jobs.

His generosity expressed itself in many other ways as well.

When the Sino-Indian war broke out in 1963, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made a public request on radio for people to donate to the National Defense Fund. Mr. Kalyanasundaram, then a student at Madras University, donated his one valued possession—his gold chain.

When floods ravaged South Tamil Nadu districts in 1992, he travelled to several villages and donated books, school uniforms and stationery to 10,000 children.

He donated his entire millennial price award of thirty lakh rupees to charity!

Mr. Kalyanasundaram wants to be useful even in death. He has donated his body for scientific research after his death.

Rewards of Generosity

What did his generosity bring Mr Kalyanasundaram? Recognition, yes. The joy that comes from giving, surely. The satisfaction of so many lives being enriched, no doubt.

But there is much more. Scientific research tells us that just like gratitude that we explored in the last column, a generous disposition has an extraordinary impact on our emotional health and well-being.  Such a disposition evokes in us positive emotions with consequent benefits. Generosity is a proven mental and emotional health enhancer. Jesus’ exhortation, “Give, and gifts will be given to you…” (Lk.38) is true in many ways.

The Gospels have two marvellous stories of generosity. One is of the widow who put her entire life earnings, though so small, into the temple treasury (Luke 21, 3). Jesus appreciates her generosity.

The other is that of the boy with two fish and five loaves. This story is quite intriguing for me. We hear Andrew saying, “there is a boy here with five loaves and two fish” (John 6.9). Two fish and five loaves is quite a bit of food for a boy. Was that the ration for the whole family that he was carrying? Did the boy give away his fish and bread voluntarily? Or, did the apostles snatch them from him and take them to Jesus? Whatever the case, the boy was left with nothing, but his sacrifice fed five thousand.

Generosity reduces stress, prevents depression, enhances our sense of purpose and leads to overall life satisfaction and sense of well-being, making us healthier and happier.

Research has shown that helping others enhances the helper’s own happiness. Generosity trumps selfishness when it comes to success in the long run.

Generosity leads us to perceive others in a more positive light, enhances social connectedness and builds positive personal relationships, both of which are proved to enhance emotional wellbeing and contribute to reduced risk of mortality. Feeling lonely and isolated from others is known to raise blood pressure, increase depression, and even lower the overall feeling of meaningfulness in life. A meta-analysis of 148 research studies has found that stronger social ties were associated with a fifty percent reduction in mortality rates.

Generous actions create a “feel good” factor, which in turn, enhances self-esteem, a necessary contributor to emotional health. These actions release endorphin, dopamine and oxytocin – the “feel good” chemicals in our body – which brings about a “helper’s high” and helps fight stress and disease. Feeling good is a natural by-product of doing good. Stinginess – the opposite of generosity – on the other hand, has been found to evoke a sense of shame, which negatively affects emotional wellbeing.

More importantly, just like gratitude, a generous disposition also enhances our immune system and extends our lifespan. One major reason for this is that helping others reduces our stress levels. Stress, we know, is the major contributor to some of the killer diseases like cancer and blood pressure. Being stingy, on the other hand, is found to increase cortisone levels in the body and contribute to increased stress. Generosity not only reduces blood pressure, anxiety and depression; it also lowers the risk of dementia, thus contributing to wellbeing and a longer and happier life.

Thus, there are enough reasons for us to be generous. However, if we are generous in order to gain these benefits, then the benefits fail to show up!! Our generosity should not be a way of getting something for ourselves.

What is generosity?

Generosity is not just giving gifts or donating to a good cause. More importantly, it is a disposition of the heart that prompts us to be sensitive and caring, to move out of our comfort zones into the lives of others. It is a disposition that makes others’ wellbeing our personal concern.

Generosity naturally flows from gratitude and the sense of awe and wonder. When we recognize how much we are at the receiving end of others’ generosity, how much we are surrounded by the bounty of God and of the Universe, how a multitude of daily miracles sustain us and enable us to get through the day, we want to return the favour and do good in return.

However, generosity cannot be equated just with giving gifts or helping someone. To be generous, as the dictionary defines it, is to be “magnanimous.” Magnanimous means having a “large soul,” from the two Latin words “magna” = large and “anima” = soul. So, real generosity is about the largeness of our heart, from which flow the deeds of kindness and compassion.

For the great catholic theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas, magnanimity is the greatest of all virtues. It is the cherry that tops all charity.

Little Ways of Being Generous

We need not be, and may not afford to be, as magnanimous as the poor widow, the boy with the fish and loaves, or Mr. Kalyanasundaram, giving away all that we have. We can be generous in little ways. We can contribute a bit of our time, make a small donation, give away a book we have already read, or the clothes lying unused in our cupboards, spend a few minutes with a distressed person, make someone feeling blue laugh, give free tuition to a struggling poor student, volunteer to help our neighbours or at the local parish or charity.

Countless, indeed, are the opportunities to be generous.

One significant socially and ecologically beneficial way we can be generous is practising “downward mobility,” that is, trying to live with less and less in a rampantly acquisitive and consumerist society. When we live a simple life style, resisting the seductive invitations of the advertising industry to consume more and more, we contribute to the abundance in which many others can share. We can give, by saying “no” to the superfluous.

For reflection:

As I look back over the past week, what expressions of generosity can I recall?

How can I be more generous in the coming week?


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Psychology & Life

Stormy Sea. Hard to Row. You, please take over!

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Katherine got the worst fright of her life and the deepest sense of peace on the same night.

She was on a small ship crossing from mainland Italy to Sardinia, where her family lived. The sea was stormy, and the night was dark.

Another young woman who shared her cabin, got scared, and ran out of the cabin to be with friends elsewhere.

Katherine had been vomiting, and felt too weak to move.

In the middle of the night, the ship stopped—in the middle of the sea. She did not know what was happening. She remembered, to her horror, that another ship had sunk around the same spot just a week earlier.

Katherine did the only thing she could do—she started praying.

She recited the Rosary.

Then, to her surprise, an unexpected sense of calm settled on her. With each “Hail, Mary” and “Holy Mary,” she found herself becoming less and less scared, more and more confident.

She would tell me later: “I had said the Rosary so many times in my life, often without thinking of the words. That night, I realized what I was saying: I was asking for Mary’s protection at the present moment (“now”) and at the hour of death—the only two moments we are sure of. If God protects me during these two moments, that is enough for me—right now and when I am dying. I was not scared any longer.”

For Thankam, my third sister, God became more real after the worst tragedy of her life. Her husband Joseph, a man of remarkable integrity and goodness, and apparently in perfect health, died suddenly. I will not understand the anguish my sister must have gone through at this unexpected and heart-breaking loss. He was 52; she was in her forties. Their five children were all in school.

“I could not eat or sleep,” she told us. She was getting weaker and weaker, and felt overburdened by Joseph’s death and the heavy responsibility that now lay on her shoulders. She would lie awake at night, unable to bear the sorrow and unclear about how to manage her family alone.

Then, one day, she did something that changed her. This is what she did.

“I told the Lord: ‘I am tired of rowing this boat all alone. Now, you take over the boat; I am going to sleep.’ I told Him that, and lay down, and slept.”

That was the first good sleep she had after Joseph’s death.

The pain remained, of course; raising five children all alone is no cakewalk for a widow. But she was able to sleep.

The Lord was now rowing her boat.

Later, she would tell us often: “If things are going well, it is not because of our smartness, but by God’s tender mercy.”

When things go well, don’t we often (foolishly) attribute it to our smartness, and forget the loving arms that hold us tenderly and provide for us?

What we need to pray for is not to be sheltered from storms, but to have the strength to face them.

How we find rest is not by withdrawing from the struggle, but by inviting the Lord to take charge more fully. He often waits nearby, too delicate to get too involved, because we may have preferred to keep him out. Tragedy—or what appears to be that—may be a hidden invitation to us to open our eyes and see how fully we are cared for, how tenderly held, and never, never forsaken.

As a friend—a woman religious whom I know for years—told me when she was diagnosed with cancer, “God has always been so good to me. I cannot doubt his care now.”

May we see beyond the turbulence and the smallness of our boat—and grasp the strong arms guiding us, and rowing for us. They will lead us to where we are meant to go.


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Psychology & Life

GRATEFUL DESPITE TRAGEDY

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How does a mother whose children were murdered find peace? Can she ever feel grateful? Does gratitude promote emotional health? How?

Julia (name changed) was one of the participants in a research on parents whose son or daughter had been murdered. Loss of a child through death is one of the hardest and most painful experiences anyone can go through. It is emotionally draining and traumatising in the extreme. The trauma is multiplied when this loss is due to human malice,  as happens in a murder.

One criteria for selection of subjects for this research was that they had experienced a positive transformation in their lives because of this trauma. In other words, these subjects had been able to turn the tragedy on its head and create out of it something good and beautiful.

The research question was: What are the processes and resources that enabled these parents to turn the tragedy into a gift, to turn their trauma into a positive source for growth and transformation?

A surprising finding was that one of the resources that enabled each of the participants to grow out of their pain and create something beautiful out of the tragedy was thankfulness. We might wonder what there is to be thankful for when someone has murdered one’s son or daughter. Yet each one of the participants had so many things to be grateful for.

Among these participants the one who could have turned out to be most bitter and resentful was Julia. Yet, she was, according to the researcher, the most grateful of all the participants. She had only two twin daughters. Both of them were murdered, supposedly, by her estranged husband the same night. Despite this awful tragedy, Julia found much in her life for which to be thankful. That thankful attitude had enabled her to overcome her trauma and grow though her pain and loss. This is what she said:

“I am so fortunate that . . . that it just amazes me, you know. . . .  I am so fortunate. . . . I could not have had them. What they brought into my life is so wonderful and precious, that I really am blessed…. And I am lucky to have those memories now. They are still in my life. Those bullets didn’t take those away. . . . And I have tons of gifts in my life. You know, in the balance of my life, yeah, there is a lot of tragedy, but look at the happiness I’ve got, look at the neat things there are in my life.”

Emotionally healthy persons have genuine appreciation for life and its blessings. They experience spontaneous joy and deep satisfaction in living. They are sensitive to the wonderful things happening in them and around them—the basic miracles of life. While recognising the limitations that life imposes on them, and despite the troubles and tragedies they experience, they are also able to see and appreciate the blessings in their life. They live gratefully.

Gratitude is much more than saying “thank you” to someone who has given us a gift or helped us in some way, or to God for a blessing received. Gratitude, as defined in research literature, is “the capacity to feel the emotion of thankfulness on a regular and consistent basis, across situations and over time.” In other words, gratitude is a disposition that accompanies us through good times and bad; when things go well and things wrong, through success and failure.

Psychological and medical research has found that gratitude is a virtue that has enormous consequences for physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. For example, it has been found that grateful people fall sick less often, and even when they fall sick, they recover much faster than ungrateful people. And more important, grateful people live significantly longer than the ungrateful ones.

The reason for the health benefits of gratitude, research tells us, is that gratitude is seen as the disposition that most creates positive emotions in us. These positive emotions, in turn, strengthen our immune system and help us to ward of disease. They increase our resilience.

Positive emotions also lead to healthier patterns in cardiovascular activity. In other words, positive emotions protect the heart.

The spiritual benefits and power of gratitude can be gauged from the saying attributed to the great fourteenth century Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart. He said: “If the only prayer you say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

For us to feel grateful we need to cultivate what Albert Einstein called a sense of “awe and wonder”—an ability to be amazed by the daily miracles that happen around us. He wrote: those who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe are as good as dead.” Further, “There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle.”

The renowned catholic theologian Karl Rahner was once asked, “Do you believe in miracles?” His reply, “No, I don’t.” But he did not stop there. He continued: ‘I rely on them to get me through each day.”

Caroline Duia has a lovely song entitled “Miracles.” Its lyric speaks of the kind of miracles that Rahner refers to: “There are miracles every moment… each day is a miracle with its countless blessings. …Yes, it’s a miracle to be alive and be living… to see the golden sunrise, to hear the birds sing, to feel the gentle breeze, to see the wind dancing in the trees… Isn’t it a miracle that just when you feel lonely and blue, then an unannounced friend comes to sooth and comfort…?”

Life is full of little miracles that should truly make us stand in awe and wonder and lead us to gratitude and reverence. Unfortunately, we take too many things for granted and only see them as very mundane events rather than amazing miracles.

Emotionally healthy persons are aware of these daily miracles, are able to stand in awe and wonder before them and feel grateful.

Emotionally unhealthy persons, on the other hand, mostly live resentful lives. It’s hard for them to see these daily miracles. They have much to complain about, blame and find fault with. All this evokes lots of negative emotions.

These negative emotions impact their general dispositions and colour their relationships. These undermine their immune system, reduce their resilience and make them vulnerable to disease and shorten their lifespan.

One easy means to cultivate gratitude is the daily practice of the Examen of Consciousness that is at the heart of Ignatian spirituality. We take a few minutes at the end of the day to sit quietly and allow memories of the good things—the little miracles—that have happened during the day to come into awareness and we let our heart fill with thankfulness. Gradually we will become more and more sensitive to these and live gratefully—and enhance our emotional health and our happiness.

Introspection

  • What does this piece on “Living Gratefully” evoke in me?
  • Is my life characterized more by gratitude and appreciation or by negativity and resentment? Why and how?
  • Complete the following open-ended statement in as many ways as possible: “I am thankful for….”
  • Then spend a few minutes expressing gratitude to God.
  • What else can I do to live more gratefully?

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Psychology & Life

ALWAYS ANGRY OR SAD? NO!

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An emotionally healthy person experiences and expresses a wide range of emotions—not just one or two.

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” (The Gospel of Thomas)

“My father was a very angry man. He was always angry. His mere look would frighten us children. Looks like anger was the only emotion he felt. I never saw him smile. And I am like him. I seem to know only anger. I get into lots of trouble because of that.” said Mr. Antony in his first therapy session. “On the other hand,” he continued, “I never saw my mother angry. But she cried a lot. She was a very sad woman. Any one could see that on her face.”

Like Anthony’s father and mother, some of us experience and express only one or two emotions. The range of our emotional expression is very limited. An emotionally healthy person, on the other hand, experiences a wide range of emotions, not only anger and sadness, but also joy, grief, shame, exuberance, fear, gratitude, regret and so on, and feels free to express them—when appropriate.

An essential aspect of what makes us human is our capacity to feel. Healthy persons are in touch with a wide spectrum of emotions, and are able to express these emotions spontaneously and appropriately.

Healthy persons are emotionally expressive, but also have emotional self-control. They know when to express an emotion and to what degree, and when not to. They can be upset by an unwanted criticism, but they do not spend the whole day moody and ill-tempered because of it. They can be joyful and even boisterous, but also know when to be quiet and reflective.

Unhealthy persons, on the contrary, are overly restricted in their range of emotional expressions. They are comfortable only with a few emotions. For some persons, their anger dominates. For others, it can be grief, sadness or resentment. Moreover, emotionally unhealthy persons tend to express emotions in inappropriate ways.

There is an interesting gender dynamic to be noted here. Men are more prone to express anger than sadness. A man feels ashamed to cry, but not to shout! A woman, on the contrary, may weep when she is overcome by anger. Women are frequently socialised to believe that it is all right for them to cry, but not to show anger. Thus, a sister who withdraws to her cell or a wife to her bathroom to cry her heart out after a severe scolding by her superior or husband may be experiencing and expressing anger, not sadness.

Emotional Expression and Health

Emotional expression has positive impact not only on our emotional health, but also on our physical wellbeing. Psychologist Alexander Lowen observes: “A graceful manner, the sparkle in one’s eyes, the tone of voice, an overall aliveness and overall vibrancy expresses who we are more than words or actions.” But we will not experience any of these, Lowen observes, if our ability to experience and express a wide range of emotions is compromised or stifled. This will reduce vitality of the body. Feeling is the life of the body, and unless we let ourselves feel, our body is deadened. Moreover, when feelings are not expressed, they get embedded in the tissues and muscles of the body and give rise to muscular tension and psychosomatic illness. For example, lower back problems often are the result of muscular tensions arising from holding in feelings.

It is important, hence, to express our feelings rather than hold them in. This expression of feelings is important in healing, especially after traumatic experiences. One of the major challenges in psychotherapy is to help a client to feel free to experience and express feelings. Too often we have been discouraged by parents and others from expressing feelings. This becomes a pattern and stifles our vitality.

While it is important to express feelings, it is also important to have emotional control. We need to know when, where, and how to express emotions. Very often we express inappropriate emotions and express emotions inappropriately. For example, if I laugh during my mother’s funeral, that would be and seen by others as very inappropriate. We all have had experiences where we find someone expressing emotions inappropriately. We feel embarrassed for the person, but he or she is quite unaware of the inappropriateness or incongruence.

The purpose of emotional control is not to inhibit or limit feelings, but to make their expressions effective and appropriate.

The saying attributed to Jesus in the apocryphal book, Gospel of Thomas is very true. If we bring out the feelings locked up within us they will save us. If we do not, they will destroy us from within. The challenge for us is to recognize them and bring them forth in appropriate and constructive ways.

Emotion and Feeling

We often speak of emotions and feelings as though they are the same reality. The two are closely related but different. The English word emotion comes from the Latin root meaning “to move out.” Emotions move us physically. According to Antonio Damasio, a leading neuroscientist, emotions are complex reactions of our body to internal and external stimuli. They originate in the subcortical (lower, more ancient) regions of the brain, and cause hormonal, neural and muscular reactions. Thus, when I am angry, my adrenal level rises, heart starts pounding, mouth goes dry, breathing becomes rapid and the muscles of the body harden, and increased blood flow turns skin red and purple. When I am fearful, flow of blood to my skin is restricted and I turn pale. When I am joyful, my facial muscles relax, pupils dilate, and lips turn up. The body is the theatre where emotions play out.

Many researchers have accepted psychologist Paul Ekman’s classification of basic emotions into six: angerdisgustfearhappinesssadness and surprise. (However, not all agree on this list.) There are a number of secondary emotions flowing from these basic emotions, such as excitement, melancholy, panic, shyness, remorse, embarrassment, jealously, guilt, shame and so on. All these emotions have their body manifestations.

According to Damasio, feelings are mental experiences of body states, which arise as the brain interprets the emotions. Feelings originate in the neocortical (more recent and advanced) regions of the brain as our awareness of the body changes that happen during an emotion. This awareness is colored by our personal experiences, beliefs, memories, and thoughts linked to the particular emotion. In other words, a feeling is the product of our brain perceiving an emotion and assigning a certain meaning to it. While emotions are bodily reactions, feelings are perception of those reactions. Feeling, thus, is the conscious subjective experience of an emotion. Thus we can speak not only of an emotion of fear (the bodily felt impulses) but also a feeling of fear (the perception and interpretation of those impulses).

This description of emotion and feeling tells us that when we speak of emotions, we are actually referring to feelings, and not emotions per se. In this sense, it is quite all right for us to consider emotions and feelings as synonymous or interchangeable, even though technically speaking they are distinct. Even some reputed neuroscientists do not care much for the technical distinction between emotion and feeling and use the words interchangeably. Moreover, the lay person and the scientist use the same words for both the emotion and the feeling. What is important is that we experience a wide range of these emotions/feelings and express them appropriately.

Introspection

  • What emotions do you more commonly experience?
  • What emotions do you find easy to express? Why?
  • What emotions do you find difficult to express? Why?

What do you need to do to bring more balance and appropriateness to your emotional expressions?


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