On creating emotions

June 17, 2012 by Joshua
in Blog, Nature

I was talking to a friend who felt mildly depressed about learning to manage your mood. She had read my friend’s story I posted recently about changing his emotions. (As an aside, I have to rank his experiment among the most effective practices you can do to learn to manage your emotions.)

I talked to her about how most of my clients can change their environments and behavior easily. To change your environment you can hang out with different friends, change your job, get rid of your tv, etc. To change your behavior you use willpower — even if they don’t think they can change long-term, they at least realize they can go to the gym once.

We spend most of our time working on changing beliefs. I’ll write tomorrow about one way to see you already change important beliefs. Once you see you already can important beliefs once the next step is to increase consistency and precision. When you can create emotions consistently and precisely, you’re basically living exactly how you want. What could be a better life?

She had worked mainly on trying to change her environment but not her beliefs. I realized something interesting, or at least sounded so to me when I said it — that changing your environment is generally neither necessary nor sufficient to manage your emotions or significantly change your life or lifestyle.

You usually have to change your beliefs too. Changing beliefs doesn’t depend on anything external, like changing your environment and behavior do, so I find it helps most.

I always come back to this fundamental point about managing emotions. A major starting point is to learn what brings about which emotions. Then, whatever emotion you want, you know how to bring it about — just do that thing. If I want to feel happy, I know what creates happiness and do it. How I feel at the time doesn’t change what will create happiness. Your emotional system doesn’t create emotions for yesterday or ten minutes ago. It creates emotions for you now. If I want to feel fascinated I know how to create it. And so on for all emotions.

I like curiosity — probably one of the main reasons I got into science. Curiosity makes me feel like a kid and I never get bored of it. I know how to create curiosity. I can just read about science — not just results (I don’t like reading popular science that just describes results but takes out the core of how people discovered and experimented to create their results) but the experiments, observations, and questions that led to the results.

I mentioned how I got rid of my books (one of my favorite posts and lessons in life). I forget if I wrote in that post that I kept some books. The reference books make sense — a dictionary, a thesaurus, Strunk and White.

Because of how much I love feeling curiosity and related emotions like fascination and inspiration, I also kept my Feynman lectures, Jackson’s Classical Electrodynamics, and my senior-year textbook on modern algebra. I like curiosity because I don’t need anyone else to create it. I can wonder in reading about and observing nature as much as I want. Those books reach the pinnacle of looking at the world through the perspective I like, both satisfying my curiosity and generating more.

Anyway, everyone has their preferred emotions and their ways to create them. You can do little more to improve your life than understanding what emotions you like or not and what creates which. Then you can fill your life with the emotions you want. That’s living by your values.

My friend seemed to dig hearing the parts about my books and which ones I kept. Anyone can do something similar. You can start small and build.

By the end of the conversation my friend started to think of little things she knew how to do to create the emotions she liked. You could see the depression lifting, at least in the moment. I wrote this post because I liked seeing that change. And because I like sharing the talk about curiosity and those books.

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