Human beings are, first and foremost, emotional creatures. Research is showing us that emotions trump rational thinking in our decisions. Even our rational decisions are backed by our emotions. There has been much discussion as to where they come from and why people have such different sets of them. Generally speaking, most people know very little about this subject that has such an impact on their lives.
We do know that our emotions are directly involved in what drives us to do anything. They are a major influence on how we feel, think, and act. If we could get a better understanding of emotions then we would be closer to understanding some of the mysteries of our human natures.
Science is showing us that our emotions are what initiates our desires and our motivations. Interestingly, our values are directly linked to our emotions. Actually, values are the expression of our innately held emotions.
We all have different sets of emotional values that create a personal identity for us. Our preferences are an expression of our emotionally charged values. We have a hierarchy of values and the ones that drive our actions are usually the highest on our list.
Because of the value hierarchy of our emotions, we are in touch with our greatest values, without having to stop and think about them. We try and instil into our children to think before they act (even though they lack full development in the prefrontal cortex and aren’t capable), but the fact is we hardly ever do that ourselves. So much of our reactions in life are emotionally instinctual and are not really choices.
There are some commonalities throughout humanity that create the basis for how we perceive, sense, and experience our world. One of them is our bias to negative emotions.
Psychologist Paul Ekman studied human emotions for over forty years and developed a list of certain emotions that he claimed to be universally ingrained in everyone regardless of culture. Of course, each of us has a long list of emotions but he found that we all shared the emotions of anger, happiness, surprise, disgust, sadness, and fear.
I find it revealing that only one of these universally shared emotions is positive by nature. Could this be a clue to understanding human nature and why we do what we do? Do we have a choice in our genetically influenced negativity?
Much research has been done proving that humans have a bias toward the negative. Newspapers and TV have capitalised on this by dwelling on news that is negative. The good news just doesn’t sell. Research also has shown that our language reflects our negativity by the fact that there are more negative words (62%) than positive (32%) in the English dictionary.
Are we doomed to be negative or can we overcome this apparent plight and choose positive, happy emotions to guide us through life? World-famous psychiatrist Dr William Glasser helps us with this. He states that there are four components to human behaviour: doing, thinking, feeling and body sensations. Body sensations are intimately a large part of our emotions. Different organs of the body produce hormones that elicit emotions along with their moods and feelings.
Dr Glasser believed that when one allows outside events to control us, then we are actually slaves to what happens to us. When one is run by their negative instinctual emotions and their associated feelings, it dictates their behaviours. This is where there is no choice, and these instinctual reactions can be very destructive to one’s life and relationships, especially when we are controlled by our negative emotions.
How can this information help us to gain control over our negative emotions? First of all, recognise that just because you have an emotion doesn’t mean that you have to be overwhelmed by it. That is easier said than done, right? The bottom line is that it requires self-control.
Without self-control, your negative emotions can be at the helm. Self-control requires an intention to take control. Choose to be positive and override your negative bias. There is a part of you that can make that choice. That’s a good place to begin. Overcoming negativity starts with choosing a positive path.
Scott Trettenero’s book, Master the Mystery of Human Nature: Resolving the Conflict of Opposing Values helps readers learn about themselves.
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