Oh World, Tell Me How to Feel Today
Our feelings seem to point to what’s happening out there in the world. Something happens in our lives, and then we feel something. It’s a pretty clear stimulus-response experience.
In fact, many of us wake up in the morning and look around at the world to find out how we should feel today. Or maybe we wake up and look back into the past to remember how we’re supposed to feel today.
We check the news to know whether we should remain stressed out, angry, or perhaps relieved. It’s the weather, our spouse, or a work relationship that makes us grumpy or optimistic. It’s our social media feed that gives us joy or sadness.
Some of us are continuously stressed out by the news. We check TV and Web media daily, which show a version of the world that feeds our fears and stokes our anger, and we check the same sources often multiple times each day. Our worry, anger, and frustration never get a chance to dissipate.
Some of us are addicted to our social media feeds, searching for a reason to feel good or bad, or anxiously refreshing our notifications like a gambler hoping for the jackpot triple cherries.
But it's not the news or our social media accounts that catalyze these emotions within me, my colleagues, my students, and you. Our emotions are induced by our own thinking (interpretations, opinions, judgments, and beliefs) about what we're observing.
Though our feelings really seem to point to what’s happening out there in reality, our feelings actually point to our thinking about what’s happening out there in reality:
I become aware of something out there with the help of my senses
I have a thought (interpretation, opinion, judgment, or belief) about what I've seen, heard, or otherwise sensed
I feel an emotion pop up seemingly simultaneously, catalyzed by that thought
This emotion reinforces thinking that interprets out there as the source of the emotion
The cycle continues
Here's a pretty simple example to highlight the point. Someone with a different political bent might find today's news encouraging while someone else finds todays news to be discouraging: same news, different interpretation, different emotional reaction. It's the interpretation (thought) that leads to the emotion (feeling).
And we still think it's the world out there that leaves us feeling the way we do in here.
Pixels of light, in the form of images or words on a computer screen or phone, don't induce anger or worry. Our interpretation of those pixels is what induces worry.
It's not a relationship, job, stray comment, the weather, or a thing that happened in the past that invites an emotion to grip us. It's our thinking about those things that induces the emotions that grip us.
Without an understanding of our fundamental nature, we live at the effect of the world around us. When we're coming from this understanding, however, living the full potential of being an adult, we are empowered to be freely, profoundly, and completely responsible for it all: to creatively respond without internal constraint.
And here's the exciting part: if it's my thinking that gives me my emotions, then I'm only ever one thought away from a whole new experience of life. (Thanks to Sydney Banks and Mara Gleeson for that insight.)
Thanks for reading ❤️.
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