Our Ultimate Quest: Empowering Emotional States
– by Eric Falcon
I have a question for you – What would your life look like if you could have everything exactly the way you desired it to be? What is your vision or dream of a perfect life?
While everyone’s ideal life scenario is different, some desires that are common to most of us include a healthy and attractive body, a romantic partner and family that love and respect us, financial abundance, and a home in our favorite geographical location.
Regarding work, the ultimate dream for some people is to own a successful business, while for others it’s to have a fulfilling career making use of their artistic or musical talents, or making a major contribution toward important causes in the world like raising environmental awareness or ending social injustices. The dream of others is to be retired and free to travel the world, or else to play and relax on a beautiful tropical island, or perhaps in Las Vegas, for the remainder of their lives.
Every one of us has aspirations and visions of our ideal life; and many of us are patiently working on bringing our goals and dreams to fruition and making them a reality.
But here’s another question I’d like to ask – whenever any of our desires or wishes are fulfilled, what does this ultimately give us? In other words, what is the thing that we really seek at the deepest level by pursuing possessions, achievements, or desirable circumstances?
The honest answer to this question is the same for everyone regardless of the specific desire or dream – what we really seek are emotional states, such as fulfillment, happiness, freedom, joy, etc. The ultimate value of any desirable achievement, possession, or circumstance is the emotional state which they bring us.
Nearly always the various emotional states we experience throughout our lives occur for us in a ‘passive’ context. In other words, our emotions are not proactively chosen by us, but rather we mostly experience our emotions as subconscious reactions – either in response to an internal thought or a memory that occurs to us passively, or to an external event or circumstance.
The sudden memory that occurs in our minds of a past trauma makes us feel depressed or distracted…we become intimidated or anxious at the thought of an upcoming exam…a compliment we hear from someone makes us feel proud…we feel grateful when we receive a gift from a loved one…the championship victory of our favorite team makes us joyful and we feel like celebrating. These common situations are all examples of the ‘passive’ context for experiencing emotions – the type of context which we are most familiar with.
But an alternative context for experiencing emotions exists, which rarely gets considered by most people – the ‘proactive’ context. Emotions occur in a proactive context by us actively creating or invoking them inside of ourselves.
Here’s a quick demonstration of this: Wherever you are right now, take five seconds to stop and invoke an emotion of gratitude within yourself. Actively feel inside yourself a deep-seated feeling of thankfulness to your Creator, for some happy experience that you can remember from your past, or for a desirable person or circumstance in your life now.
Notice how quickly and easily you were able to create an emotional state – assisted by choosing a particular object of focus. In this case, I asked you to focus on something that you were grateful for. This is a basic psychological principle – what we focus on determines how we feel.
Besides our object of focus, there are two other major factors which determine our emotional state. One is the state of our physical bodies and the other is the language we use to label the circumstances and events in our lives.
The state of our physical bodies includes our posture, breathing, and facial expressions, as well our nutrition status, hydration status, and level of rest, among other factors. A change in any of these factors can noticeably affect our emotional condition at any given moment.
Try this and see – the next time you feel a bit stressed, do the following: Take a deep breath in and let it out. Straighten your spine, bring your shoulders back and down, and lift your head and gaze up slightly. Continue breathing deeply and fully. Notice the difference in how this makes you feel. Most people experience increased feelings of calmness and confidence, by making the small changes in their physical state that I just described.
A third factor which determines our emotional state is the language which we use to describe and label our experiences and life circumstances. Actually the words and labels we use are less consequential than the meanings beneath those words. For example, you’re sitting on a plane at the departure gate waiting to take off when the pilot announces there’ll be a one hour delay due to a recently discovered mechanical problem. Your initial thoughts center on the inconvenience and boredom that the delay will mean to you. “This is pitiful,” you pronounce to yourself, as feelings of anger and humiliation begin to set in.
A few moments later, however, it occurs to you that the delay could actually be a blessing in disguise, since the timely discovery may have averted a potential crash and the death of everyone on board. You take in a deep breath and let it out as a silent sigh; now feeling grateful and relieved. You then recline in your seat and pull out a novel or get some much needed rest.
Notice how the same event can lead to two very different emotional states, merely based upon the type of meaning that we give to it. Luckily, the meaning of any and all circumstances in our lives is solely ours to determine. For example, the choice is up to us to define whether any unpleasant or difficult situation we encounter is either a curse…or a gift. And the decision that we make then markedly influences how we feel about it; for example, either defeated and discouraged…or empowered and hopeful.
Returning to my earlier statement, what humans seek above all else are emotional states – happiness, fulfillment, fun, joy, etc. The good news is that we can chose to actively invoke these emotional states inside of ourselves at will – by making simple changes in our focus, our physical state, or our language, as I have just discussed. Here are a few suggestions for applying this insight to your everyday life:
a. Everyone has down time during the week – driving in a car, waiting in a line, relaxing on the couch at home, etc. Use some of your down time to begin to practice invoking empowering emotions inside of yourself, whenever can you think of it. For example, use the exercise I gave above to periodically invoke the feeling of gratitude within yourself – it’s a very healing and rejuvenating emotional state, for your body, mind, and spirit.
b. If you observe a daily period of prayer or meditation, devote a few extra minutes of your quiet time to practice invoking feelings of inner joy or confidence. You could, for example, spend a few minutes focusing on a memory of a time when you felt especially happy or confident – perhaps in childhood, or later. This exercise is great for developing the character qualities of resiliency and inner strength, if you’re in need of these, which I think we all are!
c. Celebrate – for no good reason! Whenever you receive good news of any kind, regardless of how small or big, invoke feelings of exaggerated happiness within yourself. Even celebrate outlandishly, whenever you have the energy for it. Do it when you’re alone, of course – if the risk of being hauled off to the funny farm concerns you! An exaggerated expression of celebration, such as physically jumping for joy, shouting, or doing a crazy victory dance, floods the body with endorphins – which is one of the best things you can do for your emotional and mental health. When you let yourself celebrate periodically at the slightest provocation – you’ll realize, as I have, that this practice raises your overall baseline level of inner happiness and contentment. As a result, you’ll discover that figuring out successful solutions to the various problems that come along in life is much easier, compared to when your habitual emotional state is characterized by chronic boredom, anxiety, or aggravation.
© Eric Falcon 2010