Don’t believe the hype that emotions are either good or bad. They’re also not trendy. Emotions are the classical, infinitely everlasting notes of the song of your life. We speak so much about diversity and its importance, but somehow we relegate diversity to the tone of our skin, our cultural heritage, and our socioeconomic status. What of the diversity of our emotional relationship with the world? There are both intellectual and emotional ways to relate to the world, but we are so judgmental about the range of emotions we are allowed to express. There are the good emotions we are allowed and even pushed to reveal, such as enthusiasm, happiness, and gratitude. And the others, well, those are relegated to some distant, dusty corner deep within and buried under layers of other unacceptable emotions, where they wait, festering, and may explode at any moment because we have no forum through which to process them
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Emotions are the elixir, the sap that oozes from us when we’ve been tapped. So many of our emotions are so fresh and new and different, but we stop them from flowing, because they don’t
belong in the clique of emotions that have been sanctioned by society as acceptable. How ridiculous is this?!
We become alive when we feel and when we aren’t afraid of the feelings we are feeling. Unfortunately, we have this cultural code of a limited range of emotions we are allowed to feel and share with others. In reality, emotions are like a symphony. Each emotion is an instrument, and the notes played from the instrument are the layers of the emotions.
We can also think of emotions as colors, as social psychologist William McDougall noted in 1921 when he identified a parallel between colors and emotions. Within each color is a range of shadings depicting the complexity of an emotion. Although our experience of emotions is complex, our language around them is usually one-dimensional. We are disconnected from the hue, texture, breadth, and depth each emotion contains. Which brings me to Robert Plutchik, who in 1958 identified eight basic emotions that are polar opposites: joy versus sorrow, anger versus fear, acceptance versus disgust, and surprise versus expectancy. In the 1980s, Plutchik created a way to classify emotions in a model he called the Wheel of Emotions.* This wheel combines his list of polar opposite emotion sets with McDougall’s concept of emotional shading. This wheel, which can be easily found online, gives us a visual for what is otherwise an internal state that is difficult to explain. According to the wheel, in the same way that two primary colors are mixed together to create a third color, basic emotions can be blended together to create new emotions. For example, according to the wheel, when serenity and interest are blended together, they create optimism. This is important to acknowledge because often we experience a blend of emotions that is difficult to articulate because they are so layered, and we’ve never learned the layered language of emotions.
Using Plutchik’s wheel, we are going to create emotional blends. Say, you want to feel more optimistic. Your blend will require you to feel serenity and interest to get to the emotion of optimism What makes you feel serene? Is it taking a walk in nature? Reading a blog? And what sparks your interest? Speaking to a good friend about a topic that interests you? Or attending a class about a topic that’s new to you? Combine those external stimuli that make you feel
serene and interested to mix yourself up some optimism
As you play with this wheel, make sure you don’t shy away from the emotions that aren’t so popular, such as the annoyance and boredom that blend together to create contempt. I know, who would want to feel those emotions on purpose? Well, you aren’t always in control of what triggers these emotions, so if you experiment with them in a more “controlled environment,” it will be easier for you to understand and deal with contempt when it rises up out of nowhere. Having already blended contempt, you will know that underlying it is a layer of boredom and annoyance, and that you have the power to identify and shift your focus to another emotional blend.