The internal emotions we experience govern the quality of our lives. Everything we say or do is ultimately an effort to feel more positive emotions than negative ones. This internal reward and punishment system compels us to act effectively. As remarkable as this system is, it is the times it fails us when we take notice. Feeling excessive nervousness when making a speech, getting angry and frustrated when losing your car keys or even losing long-term satisfaction with life are all problems that occur when we lack emotional mastery.
Emotional Mastery (Series)
This is the fifth article in a six part series aimed to discover how to achieve emotional mastery. The first article outlined what emotions are and the obstacles in gaining control. The second and third article gave forth both physiological and mental techniques for shifting emotions. The fourth article outlined how energy is related to emotions and how each emotion has an inherent energy quality.
This article is on improving persistent states of emotion. This can simple mean raising the long-term amounts of satisfaction and quality in your life. It can also mean breaking out of a personal slump to reach greater levels of happiness. In the worst cases this also means destroying extended patterns of negativity, pessimism and depression.
The Nature of Happiness
At first this article is going to seem like a departure from the previous ones. Although short-term emotional mastery can be managed effectively through tools, techniques and training, long-term control requires a more holistic approach. Trying to directly control long-term levels of happiness, fulfillment and joy is very tricky. Like a slippery fish, grasping strongly on these goals often makes them slide faster out of your grip.
Now why would pursuing happiness directly cause this? The answer is simple. Your brain is set up to reward yourself with happiness when you do things that it believes warrant that reward. Through evolution and environmental factors your mind has come up with a set of criteria that distinguish what is good and what is bad. When you do things your brain believes are good, it gives you happiness.
This simplified reward mechanism is designed to encourage you to do more of the things that your brain believes will be effective for your survival and propagation. By trying to short-cut this process, your brain catches on and tries to stop you. Although you temporarily shift your emotional state, you can’t short cut persistent happiness. How do you improve your long-term happiness?
Your long range levels of happiness, fulfillment and joy are dependent on how your brain perceives it’s reality. If you see reality as hopeless, miserable and futile, your brain will compensate by making you depressed. Similarly if you see yourself as growing, making a positive effort and being optimistic, your brain will reward you with happiness.
The real question is, what if you don’t like the way you feel about your reality? What if you wish your life was better and your reality could be improved? Whether you are depressed or ecstatic about living, everyone wants to improve their version of reality. Currently, I have a great life with a lot of joy and happiness and I am still seeking ways to continually improve it.
See a New Reality
In order to improve your life you need to see a better one. This is critical if you want to escape a long-term cycle of negative emotions. You need to imagine a better way of living and grab hold of that image for dear life. I have experienced many periods of negativity ranging from a few weeks to a few years, from mildly negative to intensely depressing. Although I never stumble into really bad periods anymore, I know how difficult it is to escape the gravitational force of a really depressing mood.
When you are in a negative cycle of emotions, positive thoughts and feelings are extinguished almost as soon as they spark. The best way to keep a positive thought going is often if that thought doesn’t itself exist yet in your reality. This visualization of a new life is the start to escaping your persistent state. Even if you aren’t in a black hole of negativity, visualization is still the first step to improving your overall level of happiness.
Create the Reality
With your new reality visualized, you need to move towards making that image real, at least in part. By simultaneously holding an optimistic image and making small steps towards achieving it you can slowly work your way above a persistent state of negative emotion. By starting to ground your image in reality it has far more impact.
So if you are currently feeling negative and this is in part due to financial troubles, the first place to start is simply to hold the image in your head of earning enough money to escape debt. Once you have this image, start taking small steps to bring some aspect of your image into the real world. Even if it simply means making a small cut in spending or working harder at your job. The key is to start grounding the image so it becomes meaningful.
Visualization and grounding is a process similar to goal-setting but it can often be less specific. Before I went to University I had created a very compelling and detailed image of what it would be like, not simply the events but also who I would become. Although it lacked the specifics of a goal, this visualization, followed by the immediate grounding in reality has greatly improved my own levels of long-term happiness.
Does the New Reality Create Happiness?
But does actually achieving and grounding a new reality create more happiness? The answer to this question is a mixed yes and no. Let me explain.
The short answer is simply that no, a new reality won’t create any significant increases in happiness. Achieving things creates a good burst of short-term happiness but rarely does it last. The real reason this process works is that you will become more happy simply by visualizing and grounding, than achieving. It doesn’t really matter whether you reach your goal because the happiness simply comes from seeing a brighter future and taking steps to make it real.
A more in-depth look at this process would be that a new reality or accomplishment can improve your permanent equilibrium point of happiness, if indirectly. Remember, accomplishments themselves have no long-term happiness impact. However, if the new reality you’ve created is better at facilitating more visualizing and grounding, then it can improve your overall level of happiness.
If your goal simply solves one problem such as getting out of debt, having a relationship or starting a new business, achieving it won’t impact your long-term happiness. Only if reaching the visualization actually opens up new avenues for goals and growth will it be a source of happiness.
Long-term emotional mastery is less about techniques and tricks than it is about taking control over your life. By visualizing and grounding a new reality you are giving yourself a new positive gravitational force to escape an emotional black hole. Even if you only need moderate increases in your overall well-being, this process can give it to you.
Looking over the past several years of my life I can see a long, gradual but marked increase in my overall level of happiness. Instead of stumbling into the flat graph of happiness most people lock themselves into, I can see my own future as getting better and better. You owe it to yourself to do the same, the quality of your life depends on it.
In the next article in this series, Putting it Into Practice, I will describe how you can start taking this wealth of information and turn it into a program for improving your emotional mastery. By not only increasing your short-term resilience in handling critical events but by expanding your long-term happiness as well.