Recent research on happiness suggests that 50 per cent of what makes us happy in life comes from personal characteristics such as our outlook on life, flexibility, openness to change and resilience. A hardy personality bounces back from setbacks quickly and generally remains positive. You have inher-ited some of your attitude to life from your gene pool, but you can do a great deal to develop your mental and emotional health.
Coaching forms a great foundation for improving your emotional well-being, because you’re con-stantly questioning unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours, as well as setting yourself challenging goals that help you to stay motivated and fulfilled in your life. Managing your emotions.
Do you feel comfortable expressing your emotions or do you bottle things up only to find they explode at just the wrong moment? Do you notice what your emotions are all the time, or do you find you sometimes feel upset but can’t really put your finger on why? Knowing your emotional range takes practice, and being able to describe how you feel to others can be tricky until you become clear on exactly what these feelings are for you. Marshall Rosenberg, a specialist in conflict resolution, pioneered an approach called non-violent communication, which advocates speaking from the heart in allinteractions. Doing so helps you to become more assertive, to say what you really mean and need in a factual way that doesn’t threaten other people.
The starting point to non-violent communication is working out what your heart feels. Think of how you feel when your needs are being fulfilled – glad, joyful, proud, inspired, motivated, amazed, eager, thankful. Each emotion feels slightly different to you, but you may be used to attaching a single label to many of them, such as, ‘I’m feeling happy today.’ Now think about how you feel when your needs are not being fulfilled – angry, frustrated, puzzled, annoyed, lonely, bitter, disappointed.
The more specific you can be in identifying what you’re actually feeling, the clearer you can be in expressing what you need out of a situation to move yourself to a more positive emotion. The following activity helps you to iden-tify specific emotions:
1. Write down as many positive emotions as you can think of. Recall some times when you’ve experienced these emotions and describe what the physical feeling is for you. Perhaps ‘joy’ is like ‘pride’ for you and for both you feel a warm sensation at the back of your throat. Or ‘moti-vated’ feels like a pleasant tension in your abdomen. Notice the similari-ties and differences between each positive emotion.
2. Do the same with the negative emotions that you experience. Maybe ‘anger’ causes your shoulders to tense while ‘lonely’ gives you an empty feeling in your stomach.
3. Recapture some of the pleasant emotions you’ve identified by focus-ing in on the thoughts and memories that trigger the physical feelings for you. As you recall the moment when you felt ‘pride’, notice how you can recapture the same warm sensation at the back of your throat even though you experienced unpleasant reactions only a moment before.
Notice how quickly you can begin to affect changes in your body that directly affect your mood. Keep practising this – sometimes you need some time to really tune into managing your state in this way.
4. Armed with this awareness, catch yourself as you go about your day and notice your feelings. When someone cuts you up on a roundabout, what do you feel? Angry? Frustrated? Rejected? You might be surprised at the real emotion behind the trigger, and that it can change depending on the mood you’re in to start with.
Recognising your emotions is half the battle. Expressing them in a way that gets the message across clearly and moves the situation forward in a positive way is the next step to healthy emotional well-being. Think about the last time you were in a heated argument with someone close to you. Did you say – and hear – things that were hurtful and hard to forgive? In a calmer mood, you realise that you didn’t really mean some of what you said. Although getting things off your chest is good, letting strong emotion exaggerate the drama of a situation is rarely helpful.
Take some of the sting out of arguments by staying mindful of what your needs really are. Perhaps you feel neglected or frustrated in a relationship. Choose to express yourself by describing the specific reasons that make you feel that way, without resorting to a blanket accusation such as ‘You never have time for me’. Help the other person by explaining what action they can take to resolve matters.
Don’t forget to celebrate your happy and positive emotions. You can make a big impact on your emotional well-being by simply noticing the things that make you feel good and going out of your way to make sure they’re part of your life. Those mornings when you wake up full of enthusiasm for no particu-lar reason don’t come out of nowhere. Certain triggers help you to feel that way – maybe a smile from a stranger or a supportive email that you didn’t really notice at the time. If you can work out what those triggers are, it’s like bottling up your own personal happiness formula for your future use.