Choose complex emotions like joy to guide your life.

Osho, the late Indian godman, says labeling emotions is dangerous because it makes you only seek out the ones you like. Instead, he suggests we observe emotions like someone sitting atop a hill watching the weather change. Is that sage advice (pun intended)? Mindfulness techniques also advocate examining our emotions non-judgmentally. But should we be mute spectators of our primal nature? As emotional beings, not engaging with our emotions is akin to not engaging with life and living. The danger is not labeling, but allowing emotions to dictate your life, and you need one for the other.

Emotional intelligence is now part of our daily vocabulary, but EI focuses on understanding and managing our emotions to help us function better in society. It’s more about fitting in, and while that’s important, EI does not recognize the immense potential of emotions in helping us find meaning in our lives.  This is where labeling emotions come in handy. Some emotions make us feel good; some don’t. For example, a jealous person feels the unpleasant bite of jealousy, while a person in love feels the heady rush of love. Reflecting on the emotional labels of unpleasant and pleasant emotions is an essential next step to understanding which ones to keep. For example, nothing is more pleasurable than eating chocolate all day, yet we know that unpleasant emotions like guilt, disgust, and fear will invariably follow. 

Life is simple; we all want to be happy. Just as complex carbohydrates are more nutritious and satiating than simple carbs, so are complex emotions for long-lasting happiness. For example, choose joy over pleasure. Joy is a many splendored emotion involving pain, fear, elation, anger, and even hope. Similarly, the philosopher Seneca equated happiness with tranquility: a complex emotion. But we must pick the complex emotions that feel right for us and our happiness because our emotional reactions are personal and difficult to change. Even the great Daniel Day-Lewis couldn’t overcome his stage fright, the reason why he took up acting before the camera. 

Observe your emotions, and label them. Then select the complex emotions that come most naturally to you, and make you feel at ease, and let them guide you in traversing the turbulent seas of life. 

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