I wasn’t surprised my post entitled You’re Not Awesome resonated with so many people, I was however surprised at how many discussions regarding depression I’ve been having in the last 24hrs because of it: depression, how to handle depression, signs of depression, and how to get happy again. (Although I’m not a therapist, I have quite a bit of experience helping people understand emotions as a former life coach.) These kinds of discussions always seem to follow tragedy, especially suicide, however, the information I’m about to share with you usually doesn’t, and I think it’s a shame. I am pulling a few pages out of my life coaching playbook, it’s been sitting dusty on the shelves of my mind for a few years since I stopped coaching, not serving anyone but me, that’s a shame too.
Happiness and Sadness and Everything in Between
A lot of people only really recognize two or three emotions, usually – happiness, sadness, and rage. Of course, there are a myriad of emotions besides these. The scale pictured in this post is a pared down list of some (but by all means not every) common emotion. As you can see, there is a lot more to being emotional than three emotions. This is not earth shattering news, most people can cognitively understand this. I always wonder how many people that “get” it still don’t take the time to pay attention to the emotions sandwiched in-between Joy and Grief. I bet it’s most of them – smart people are the worst at paying attention to emotions.
Paying Attention is a Big Part of Feeling Good
When I life coached, I made all my new clients check in with themselves several times daily for the week between our first and second appointment and keep track of it in a diary. They weren’t to judge themselves or try to change anything, they were just noticing how they were feeling and then going about their business. What’s amazing about this is that so often after that week I would hear from my clients about how liberating it was to be able to understand what they were feeling, like they had never done it before. They felt like they knew themselves better. Somewhere in there they always felt shame for not paying attention in the past. I always had to admit to them, I didn’t know how to do it either until I went to coaching school.
During our second appointment, we’d talk about the significance of the emotional scale (pictured), it usually went something like this:
Client: “You mean being angry is better than being depressed!”
Me: “Yes, an angry person is someone who feels they have power, a depressed person feels powerless”
The most fun part of this appointment was when they checked back through their diaries. Their minds were always blown when they saw in their own handwriting what I told them next: It’s nearly impossible to jump straight from an emotional high to an emotion low and vice versus. Contrary to all the greeting cards, and cliché sayings, you can’t jump straight from discouragement about a certain situation and feel joy in it. You have to work through all the feelings in-between, you might be able to jump a few steps, but not the whole staircase. You know where my clients were on the emotional scale when they figured that out for themselves? Somewhere between Relief (#6) that it was impossible to jump straight from depression to joy, and Frustration (#10) that it was impossible to jump straight from depression to joy. Go Figure.
If you can’t get there from where you are, just move towards joy
The idea that when you’re feeling low about something, (say, losing your job) you should immediately start seeing it as a blessing is total bullshit. It’s too large of a mental leap. Sure, you can fake it (and sometimes you have to) but it probably won’t change how you are really feeling. What you can do is recognize where you are on an scale of emotion like this one, and try to move up it towards Joy, even if that means moving from insecurity to rage. All too often we expect people to get over their own negative emotions quickly, and we tell them things like “Snap out of it” or “Don’t worry be happy” but really, these things only serve to make them feel guilty (#21) – possibly pushing them further down the emotional scale than they already were. There is a trick here of course, you have to keep moving up the staircase, when you no longer want to “rage” you’ve got to let yourself feel the anger, discouragement, blame, worry, doubt, disappointment, overwhelment, frustration, pessimism, and boredom to even get anywhere close to feeling good about it. You can see why people feel guilty when you tell them to cheer up can’t you? Guilt is so much closer to where they are emotionally, and they really can’t move up the emotional scale as quickly as you are asking them to, they feel they’ve failed. It’s not on purpose, we don’t usually want people to feel worse, we just don’t know any better.
I’ve given you a tool. and I want you to use it.
This week, I encourage you to copy this emotional scale and spend some time noticing where you and those around you are ranking. Take note of what emotional steps are in-between where you are and where you want to be. If you notice that you or someone you love keeps hovering near the bottom of the scale, see if you can’t bump up the scale a little, if you can’t do it yourself, get help. Get professional help if you need to. Let me know how it works out. Take it easy on yourself and others, after all, we’re all in this together.