Part 4. What creates our emotions?

Music, art and drugs can create emotions within us. Thoughts do, too: something happens, we interpret the situation, and an emotion results.

Fact ➡️ Interpretation ➡️ Emotion. For example:

A footballer kicks a goal. (Fact.)
She sees that is good for her team. (That’s her interpretation of the fact.)
Her opponent sees that is bad for her own team. (That’s her interpretation of the fact.)
The player kicking the goal is pleased. (The emotion.)
The player’s opponent is displeased. (The emotion.)
Same fact, but different interpretations of that fact. Result: different emotions felt.

‘. . . there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’

William Shakespeare (Hamlet Act II, scene II)

The thoughts that create our emotions are often so fleeting they are hard to pin down. The footballer kicking the goal wouldn’t consciously think to herself, ‘Gosh, the ball is going into the net. That’s a goal for our side. It’s good to kick goals because it helps the team win —’ and so on. No, before the ball even hits the back of the net the player is overjoyed.

However, it couldn’t be anything else but her thoughts – her interpretations – creating her joy. So, we can assume that thoughts (albeit incredibly brief) do create emotions.

For centuries the happiness gurus have concluded that we can improve our lives by reframing a situation. For example: Sue and Cath get sacked from their jobs. Sue sees a new chapter in her life while Cath sees it as a catastrophe. Same fact, but different interpretation, resulting in different emotions being felt. ‘Therefore’, argue the gurus, we need to tell Cath to think like Sue.

The trouble is, even if the two women’s life circumstances are exactly the same in every respect, it’s no use telling Cath to ‘reframe the situation’ and adopt Sue’s point-of-view. That’s not how human beings work. We don’t carefully choose our thoughts like we choose our groceries; thoughts come to us.

The two women interpret their situation differently not because Sue is wiser or smarter, but because she feels she can handle being sacked and Cath doesn’t. When Cath develops the feeling that she too can handle life (and handle being sacked) she will reframe the situation in a positive light as well. But until then, simply telling Cath to ‘reframe the situation’ will only irritate her, and possibly dishearten her further.

It’s about time the happiness gurus figured that out.

This book is about developing the feeling that we can handle life, so that we can become like Sue: resilient.

But I digress. Our thoughts create most of our emotions, which means WE create our emotions.
 Not incidents. Not other people. Not the outside world. WE create our emotions.

Once we become aware of that (not on an intellectual level, but on a deep, knowing level) our life will change for the better.

That’s what this section is about: fully accepting that we create our emotions.

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