The Value of Our Emotions

Do you sometimes feel that you shouldn’t feel a certain way? “I shouldn’t be mad,” “I should be more patient,” “I should be enjoying this” and so on.  When we treat emotions as “shoulds” or “shouldn’ts,” then we run the risk of losing our authenticity and even, to some degree, what makes us human.

First of all, I want to point out that many of us talk to ourselves (not in a crazy way) in a manner that is completely unacceptable.  For example, if I said to you, “you shouldn’t feel that way,” how are you going to feel?  Or if I said, “you’re such a fraud, what are you doing here?” You’re going to think I’m not much of a friend.  I might sound more like your enemy in fact, right?  My point is that many of us talk to ourselves as if we are someone we hate and want to hurt.  Unacceptable!  NOW you’re talking in a crazy way.

This idea brings us to a second point, and that is that the only person that can make you feel accepted, loved, gratified and happy is you.  In several previous blogs about perception (My View on Perception, Emotions Gone Viral, Imposter Syndrome and Not Measuring Up, ) we talked about how our interpretation of the world is subject to our own biases, what we attend to, and how we feel about what we observe.   If all you notice is your shortcomings and then you tell yourself what a bad person you are, then you are creating your own reality of being a bad person.  If you don’t think you have the right to feel how you feel, then those negative emotions will get hidden away, along with your positive ones.  Pretty soon you won’t be able to feel hardly anything at all except a sense of dysphoria and confusion.   Thus, if the only person that can make yourself happy is you, then start being the friend, no the lover, to yourself that you deserve.  Yes you do deserve it.  Everyone does.  E-v-e-r-y-o-n-e.

In addition, humans are emotional beings.  We just are.  Even if we are paid to be objective and analytical all day long, and are good at it, we are still emotional.  If you bury your emotions so you don’t recognize them, it simply means that they will influence you without your knowledge, sort of like an invisible puppet master.  This will happen and you may not even know it.   On the other hand, those who are emotionally intelligent and are aware of their and others’ emotions also tend to be able to use that information to get a more clear view of the world. For example, if I’m seething with resentment at my boss, I may blame those emotions on my boss and then treat him in a hands-off manner.   This , of course, is likely to result in my boss distancing himself from me, which I then interpret as resentful and angry behavior, and so on.  The origin of those feelings is me.  I’m creating the situation and I’m not able to see it clearly since I am not attuned to my feelings (Self-(Un)fulfilling Reality).

I know, it can be scary or confusing to finally confront those buried feelings.  Been there.  Done that.  We suppress our feelings for good reasons; often they are painful.  Chronic pain patients, however, know that to fight the pain is to intensify it.  Paradoxically, mindful acceptance and “rolling with it” tends to lead to less pain and better outcomes.   We can also challenge the beliefs that cause us the pain (Making the Change You Know You Should Make), and even use that pain to create change and growth (Making Good Use of Negative Emotions).

In the end, we all are on our unique journeys to discover who we are and why we are here.  Maybe some can discover that without being in touch with their feelings.  For me, when I was able to accept and embrace all of my parts, including those I was afraid of or didn’t like, was when I was able to really find my authentic path.  How about you?

The Downside of Mindlessness

We don’t have to talk about meditation, so don’t panic.  But I do want to talk about mindlessness – just going through life without thought or much observation.   Mindfulness or mindlessness is the manner you go about your life between meditation sessions (sorry, couldn’t resist).  The best example for mindlessness for me is not remembering one detail about my drive into work.  Twenty minutes of pure mindlessness, though my new commute is filled with so much beauty it is so much harder for me to be mindless.

We’ve developed these mindless habits to simplify our lives, but Harvard professor and author of Counter Clockwise, Ellen Langer argues that we are giving up our freedom to choose when we fail to be present.  My drive into work could have involved noticing a new store, a beautiful sky, a kind gesture, or the choice for a new route and scenery.  Instead, I typically drive like an automaton, giving away my life in 10-20 minute increments.

There are other downsides to mindlessness.  Others, including animals, can sense our mindlessness even if we think we’re hiding it well.  Distracted conversation is not an effective way to communicate or build trusting relationships.  Those who approach others with mindfulness elicit a desire to interact and engage and are viewed more positively than those who interact mindlessly.

Here are some additional benefits from approaching tasks with mindfulness:

  • Energizing – mindfulness is energizing, not energy depleting
  • Creativity – mindful approaches enables creativity as one views projects with fresh eyes
  • Better, more trusting relationships
  • Higher quality work – Tasks performed mindfully are judged to be better than those that are done mindlessly
  • Fewer mistakes and improved willingness to turn mistakes into opportunities
  • More fun

Langer even states that suffering is due to mindlessness, not only in terms of what we tend to notice (or not notice) in our world,  but how we think/feel about our world (see also  My View on Perception , Bias, It’s Just Not for Fabrics and Projection and Perception).  Our assumptions and automatic beliefs about the world create our unhappiness and our inability to think creatively and out-of-the-box.  My drive to work can either be seen as a terrible burden and unpleasant experience, or a time for discovery.  Again:  a choice.

The path to mindfulness, according to Langer, is to “make it new in subtle ways that only you would know.”  She also recommends noticing how it feels to be mindful and to cultivate that feeling.  I will just indulge myself here and remind you that meditation is exercise for the mindfulness muscle (see also Soothing the Child Within).  Fortunately, there are many ways to exercise mindfulness, so find the meditation style or activity (such as yoga or swimming) that is right for you.  Choose to become more mindful, and observe the beauty, newness, choices, creativity and opportunities that have been right under your nose this whole time.

“Gotta Be Me”

This old song title seems like a no-brainer: if I am not Me, who am I?  I have certainly tried during different points of my life to be someone I’m not,  probably like most people.    Trying to be someone else is like writing with your non-dominant hand: it feels weird, it doesn’t work well, and it’s hard to sustain for any length of time.

But does Being Me mean I can’t or shouldn’t try to evolve me?  Evolving me does not necessarily mean that I believe there’s something wrong with me.   For example, I’m not the same Susanna I was when I was 20 (Thank God!).  It doesn’t mean that I have been inauthentic at either point in my life.  It simply means that I’ve evolved, grown, changed, and hopefully matured.  There is absolutely no way that I could’ve predicted this growth trajectory, nor could I have planned it if I tried.  It unfolded organically in some ways, but also discreet decisions at key points have sent me in new directions.  In other words, depending on the point in time, that growth and maturation was either actively or passively determined.

Does actively determining direction of growth mean I’m being inauthentic?  For example, I am a shy person.  Always have been.  Always will be.   Some time ago, however, I decided that shy behavior was getting in my way.  I didn’t like how shyness made networking and meeting people so difficult.  So I decided to put that shyness away and ignore my feelings of self-doubt and discomfort interacting with people I do not know well.  Most people who know me now are surprised to hear that I am shy, so I feel I’ve done pretty well managing that aspect of me.  Does working through shyness mean I’m not Being Me?

I’ve recently completed a course in Life Coaching.  Our “final exam” was to coach one of our peers for 15 minutes.  I had been feeling out of focus and distracted the entire session leading up to this exercise, and felt like I just couldn’t do a good job.  I think I could’ve bowed out without repercussion except for losing a little face.  I also could’ve given a disclaimer going forward like, “well I’m going to do it but it’s gonna suck.”  But instead, I just dove in.   The session went fine.  Well, even.  What I learned about myself is that I can actually do just fine when I put aside my self-doubts or concerns about my less-than-optimal state of mind.  Authentic, or no?

A similar experience in my job as a new faculty member comes to mind.  I was fresh out of training when I was asked to chair a committee before I had even served on a committee.  I did not feel remotely ready, but I just dove in. I didn’t advertise either any made-up experience or my lack of experience.  I simply did my job.   Like the coaching exercise, the outcome was fine.  Good, even.  In other words, I can fake it until I make it.  Was I being inauthentic by not fessing up to feelings of inadequacy, lack of preparedness?   Should I have begged off since Who I Am (at that moment) is Not Ready?

And so it is with many different aspects of Me, and I would imagine with You as well.   Each example involves a decision to push through what I believe to be my limitations either globally (I’m a shy person) or temporally (I don’t feel up to this).  There have even been times when I have felt stuck and have turned to self-help books (OMG) to find a way to work through a problem.  The person at the other end of these shallow or deep self-assessments is still Susanna.  It’s just Susanna taking an intentional course in determining who or what will or will not influence my choices. (OK I’ll stop writing in third person now.)

I’ve discovered from strengths coaching that we often have talents that we’re unaware of.  We even have the capacity to compensate for our talent gaps, not by becoming someone we’re not, but by enhancing and evolving who we already are.  The latter involves being willing to explore who we are, even if it feels weird or unnatural at first.  When it doesn’t work out, we try another approach, and then another, until it does work and feels right.  The mature Me knows that to tell myself or others that I can’t do something is doing myself a disservice.  I may not want to do something, but if I do want to do it, or have to do it, I will find a way that works for me.  That’s about as authentic as I can be.

It’s Great to Be a Woman

Do you ever play that What If? game?  What if I were rich?  What if I were Selena Gomez?  What if I were white?  What if I were 20 again?

Well I’ve never wondered what it’d be like to be Selena Gomez, but I do sometimes reflect on the other questions.  I’ve also wondered recently what it would like to be male and, if some magic elf gave me the opportunity to switch (without creating total havoc somehow), would I do it?

The answer is a resounding No.  Here’s why I’d rather be a woman, any day.

  1.  Showing emotions – I haven’t always been good at showing my softer side, and I’m not great at it now, but I do know what it’s like to feel like it’s not safe to cry (either happy or sad tears), show vulnerability or sadness.  When I didn’t feel safe to cry or show vulnerability, all I felt was anger.  I much rather feel the range of emotions; it makes me feel human, whereas my anger makes me feel less than.
  2. Intimacy – I’m not saying that men can’t have intimate relationships.  It’s just much easier for women to do so.  We’re sometimes derided for our desire and need to bond and share, but I think it’s just jealousy.  “Other people matter” (Chris Peterson), is at the heart of well-being.  The ability to develop those relationships with others is what brings meaning to my life.
  3. Being a Mom – Being a Mom is distinctly different from being a Dad.  Both are wonderful and important.  But having gone through pregnancy, delivery, and nursing starts us off with time and a bond that Dad will never have.  Dad’s bond will be equally strong, but in different ways.   I love that Mom-child bond.
  4. Sartorial options – Again, the ridiculous stereotypes about women and their clothes, shoes, handbags.  Not that I love having to obtain and care for all that extra stuff.  I just like having options.  I can wear a dress, makeup and high heels.  Or not.  Men don’t have those options to the same degree we do.
  5. Peeing sitting down – OK, not really.
  6. Professional value – Yes there are downsides to being a woman, especially professionally.  I still feel like women have a disadvantage in the workplace.  But I also don’t have to feel like my value is determined by my salary or job.  That’s the upside.  Good thing because chances are I’ll never rise as high or make as much as my male counterparts.  Or maybe I will.

In the end, I’ve learned to love who I am, especially the parts I can’t change.   It’s funny how this exercise is a metaphor for life – most of life we cannot control or change.  Do we choose to embrace our circumstances and feel gratitude and peace, or just feel jealousy and resentment?  I could’ve focused this blog on why it’s better to be male and proven it’s much better to be male, but what would be the purpose of that exercise but to make me feel less than?  Again, it’s not much of a choice when you put it that way.

Where in your life are you feeling resentful?  If you can change those circumstances, then make the change.  If you can’t change it, then why are you choosing pain?


All:  Don’t forget to send me questions or topics you’d like for me to discuss.  Go either to this blog, email me at or to the Talk to Susanna link on the left.  Thanks!  Look forward to hearing from you!

Emotions Gone Viral (Some pretty amazing research in here!)

All information that we receive (sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste) is neutral information until we add value judgment to it.   Think about what that means for a minute.  It means that the things that make us angry, bitter, resentful, joyous, blissful, or amused all starts out as just the equivalent of a binary code in our head.

The implications of this observation are numerous, but there are two that really stand out to me.  First, everyone will translate that code into their own unique perception.  If you keep in mind the fact that the data is neutral, then it seems arbitrary to then assign absolutes to any of that data, such as “you are wrong,” “I am right,” “this is bad,” “this is good.”  I’m not saying we should stop evaluating our environment.  Perhaps we should simply stop assigning so much certainty to it.

Second, the meaning we assign to the data is absolutely voluntary, and therefore, so are our feelings about it.   If I decide “I don’t like what you did” instead of “what kind of person would do this kind of a thing?” then how I feel in response to a perceived wrong is completely different.   How would this shift impact the quality of our relationships?

This very simple concept, that we assign meaning voluntarily and somewhat arbitrarily to neutral data, means that we choose our reality.  We can choose judgment, anger, and cynicism or we can choose peace, acceptance and love.    We make these choices with all the information that flows inward.  Most of it we ignore, and the rest we judge as to its importance, value and meaning.  We make these judgments all day long without hardly a thought.

The implications of the fact that we define and create our own reality and emotional response is huge.  If you would argue that it only affects you, you would be wrong.  The authors of the famous Framingham heart health study (Fowler, 2008) also evaluated happiness over a 20 year period in the community of over 5000 Framingham residents.  Their results were surprising:  people surrounded by happy people were more likely to be happy.  This was true for up to three degrees of separation.  In other words, your happiness and mood can affect your Mom’s neighbor’s best friend.   Their mood affects three degrees of separation, and so on.

So, your perception and mood are both choices which you make on pretty much a constant basis.  Your choice affects not only those around you but those around those folks too.  We already know our feelings are contagious, and now we know that they’re actually viral.  So what emotions are you choosing, intentionally or not, to spread to your friends, family and community?  Today, pick an emotion you want to spread.  Make it a good one.


Fowler, J. H., & Christakis, N. A. (2008). Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: Longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study. British Medical Journal, 337, a2338.


All:  Don’t forget to send me questions or topics you’d like for me to discuss.  Go either to this blog, email me at or to the Talk to Susanna link on the left.  Thanks!  Look forward to hearing from you!

My Self-(Un)fulfilling Reality, Part I

I think this continues to be an important issue, so I’m reposting this blog.

Silver Lining

We make many choices in our life, not all of which we are aware of making.  Those choices have real consequences, and the less we are aware of making these choices the greater the potential impact on our lives.  The impactful choices are not even the big choices, often they are the small, daily choices that we take for granted.  These choices include what we say to ourselves (about anything) and what we believe (about anything).

For example, if I believe I deserve chocolate in my life, I will subconsciously act in a way that will invite chocolate to me.  I may go buy fine quality chocolate because I deserve it, I’ll notice chocolate stores when I’m driving around, I’ll stand in line for a free chocolate sample at See’s, and my loved ones will give me chocolate because they know it’ll make me happy.   Since I’m such a…

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Breadcrumbs on the Trail of Authenticity

I don’t care how left brained and analytical you are, most people will agree that we each have different preferences and abilities for the endless buffet of choices in our fortunate lives.  When we can spend time on things or activities where we have interest and competence, we tend to be happier, more satisfied, more engaged and successful at that activity. Tasks are just easier when they’re pleasurable and you’re doing them for own your personal satisfaction.

How does that relate to authenticity?  To me, authenticity refers to harnessing your strengths, interests, values and natural inclinations to do what you do best and enjoy doing the most.   You might say that what you enjoy most is watching TV and eating Doritos.  You might even argue that the TV/Dorito routine is what you’re most talented at.  Ha ha.  Funny guy.  Don’t quit your day job.

The problem with that scenario is that you’re not exercising your strengths or following your natural inclinations or values.  Yes you might be interested in the show and tired and want to veg out.  But what do you like to do?   What makes you feel fulfilled and alive?  I don’t know about you but TV and junk food makes me feel quite the opposite, especially given what’s on TV these days.  I will literally feel sick, tired and achy if I overindulge in that routine for very long.  The same is even true for a lazy beach vacation.  Yes, I can lounge around and eat and nap for days at a time… until I can’t any more.  I need something more.

In the end, we’re creatures that yearn to grow.  Sometimes we don’t know how/what/when.  We used to know.  When we were really young, we rarely if ever complained about being bored or tired.  We were ruled by our curiosity and we did what made us feel happy and alive, not just sated.   That is our authentic self.

I recently wrote about rediscovering our authenticity by excavating our past.  The excavation exercise is designed to help you move away from your prescribed, play-by-the-rules adult self.   Both my child and adult-self love cooking and dancing:  I can dance and cook (not simultaneously) for hours for I am in control of the challenges of each activity.  But the answers don’t always lie there.  After all, they are not my calling.  If the excavation exercise is not enough, it may mean there are more layers to unravel.

We can find our adult versions of those moments of authenticity by identifying those incidents where we lose track of time, feel fully alive and engaged in our activity, and feel a sense of mastery and control.    Being able to do this part of the exercise successfully means allowing yourself to let go of your preconceptions about who you should be, what you should want, and how you should act.  Let’s suspend the “shoulds” for this exercise and just reflect on your peak experiences, your moments of joy, your flashes of brilliance.  I know you have them.   What enabled you to do that or feel that way?  What part of it was the most satisfying?  When do people tell you, “wow, how did you do that?” or “you should do this for a living.”  Excavate now your current life.

These are your breadcrumbs to your passion, your authenticity.  Follow that trail regardless of where it goes, at least in your head.  You don’t have to make any changes in your life right now, but give yourself the gift of starting  that exploration and seeing what you find.

Now tell me.  What did you discover about yourself?


All:  Don’t forget to send me questions or topics you’d like for me to discuss.  Go either to this blog, email me at or to the Talk to Susanna link on the left.  Thanks!  Look forward to hearing from you!


The Blessings of a Dysfunctional Marriage

All – I thought I’d repost this old blog. Someone told me this was post-traumatic growth – probably true. In the end, we have a choice to buckle or grow from our trauma, but then, that’s a pretty obvious choice, isn’t it?

Silver Lining

This twenty-year marriage had a happy ending: divorce.

It’s not what you think, completely.  Yes, the divorce was the right thing to do and we all felt better afterwards, or we would not have made that difficult decision.  But despite the many years of struggle and anguish, Dave and I had a good marriage.  Let me explain.

I should start by saying that Dave and I had what is probably a typical marriage.  Like most couples we were attracted to each other and fell in love because of our unidentified and unmet emotional needs.  We felt “complete” with each other because our partner reflected a chance to heal our emotional shortcomings.  Trouble begins when the euphoria wears away and you’re left primarily with the challenge of actually healing yourself.   The opportunity that is marriage is that it provides the laboratory, lab partner and the incentive to avoid an “F” to…

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Making Good Use of Negative Emotions

I know from personal experience that negative emotions can produce positive change.  After many years of being in denial about the discrepancy between reality (bad wife, bad marriage) and my perceptions (good wife, good marriage), my psychic discomfort finally reached a point where I could no longer ignore the elephant in the room.

When I finally accepted the painful reality that major changes were needed, I made some tough decisions and acted on them.  What ensued was a blossoming of creativity and productivity that was enabled and characterized by positive emotion, growth and meaning.   My migraines and fibromyalgia dissipated, my joy returned, and I found a new level of engagement with and passion in my work.  I got to know myself again, this time without the martyrdom.   This growth phase was neither planned nor anticipated.  Rather, it occurred organically and continuously and surprised the heck out of me.  Now, the absence of that psychological and physical pain in my daily life is enough to make me want to do the Sound of Music twirl on the hill.

In some respects, my pre-divorce marriage and life were not too bad:  a “nice” husband, financial security, a beautiful family, and a comfortable lifestyle. Without the feelings of loneliness, despair and resentment, I may have passively continued in this comfortable-enough, pre-change situation indefinitely.  The antithesis of “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” (Harry Truman) is “If you can stand the heat, stay in the kitchen.”  Which I did, for 20 years.  In hindsight, I do not believe the decision to change (divorce) would have happened had I not felt consumed by negative emotions.

Psychic entropy, the opposite of flow, occurs when life’s reality interferes with your goals and intentions.  When your viewpoint finally becomes clearly at odds with reality, the resulting discomfort and negative feelings that result may cause re-evaluation of perspective and change, as it did for me prior to the divorce.    This transition to actually considering change is difficult, especially when the stakes accompanying the change are high.  For me, introspection and self-discovery have become essential tools in denial-management.  Increasing my awareness of buried feelings of sadness, despair, frustration, anger, or resentment provides an early warning system for psychic entropy and whether change is needed.

Despite my successful experience with change thus far, I’m still no change expert.  At least I know now that having good self-awareness allows me to be more proactive about detecting and solving problems in my life instead of requiring that negative emotions consume me before making needed change.   But if you do have to go there, don’t let those negative emotions go to waste.  They’re there for a reason:  get out of the kitchen.


See also:  Can You Spare Some Change; and Making the Change You Know You Should Make

All:  Don’t forget to send me questions or topics you’d like for me to discuss.  Go either to this blog, email me at or to the Talk to Susanna link on the left.  Thanks!  Look forward to hearing from you!

Sharing Positive Emotions: An Experiment

This week’s assignment in one of my classes was to select a positive emotion such as gratitude or kindness, share it intentionally and note the effects.  I had three group interactions where I shared a positive emotion, though it was only intentional two out of the three times.  The results were mixed, but I believe I still learned a valuable lesson from this exercise.

My first intervention was unintentional: I had a feeling that I should share my electronic assignment list for the distance learning period with the class.  I sent it out and immediately got many, many expressions of gratitude.  I also noticed that others then shared what they’ve been reading or compiling for assignment organization.  I then wondered whether this was an uptick in sharing or whether I was just now noticing sharing that was already occurring.    Thus, I went back and reviewed the postings on Facebook for the class (I had only just joined so I didn’t know) and saw that sharing has been ongoing through the entire distance period.    I did notice, however, that after I started sharing, I then was more inclined to keep sharing with others.  In other words, sharing had a larger effect on me than I think it had on the group.

The second interaction that I reflected upon was a small group meeting that I had with the team for our new student development program.  I shared with them excitement for my ideas that I had gotten from class and how I wanted to integrate them into our program.  It did not surprise me that my enthusiasm was shared by the others.  I noticed the team smiled more, they spoke in an animated manner, and made supportive statements in response to hearing about the project.  They expressed gratitude and a wish to participate.  Awesome!

The third trial was at dinnertime with my family.  My son and my partner are similar in personality and our dinnertime conversation is rarely serious.  After a few rounds of lighthearted banter and teasing, I shared my gratitude for how they each enrich my life.  I received a lot of sarcastic and disbelieving comments (good-naturedly) since they thought I was just playfully trying to maneuver my way out of the doghouse and onto their good side.  They weren’t taking me seriously, though I was being serious with my affirmations.

My conclusion from this limited exercise is that I suspect that groups that are already high in a certain positive emotion are less likely to noticeably respond in kind.  I think my class and family are already quite accustomed to sharing and positive affirmations, respectively.    Perhaps positive emotion in groups reaches plateau and it’s difficult to increase after a certain point.   

In contrast, I believe at work we’re comparatively short of inspiration and excitement and are likely on the escalating part of the asymptote.  Therefore, I think my colleagues are more responsive to my attempts to grow these positive emotions in our discussions.    Therefore, I will especially be more intentional about sharing excitement, gratitude and kindness with groups that tend to be lower in positive emotion.

Though we were instructed to introduce an emotion into a group for class, I’m not sure I’m the origin of the positive emotion in either case.  It seems just as likely that my class and  family created the positive emotion in me, not the other way around.  Positivity resonance theory would suggest a positive feedback loop with regards to positive emotion; perhaps naming the origin of the positive emotion is semantics at this point.   Regardless of whether I’m the instigator or beneficiary, I will continue to share positive emotion with others.  Not only is it fun, but helping others feel better is an opportunity I can’t resist.

All:  Don’t forget to send me questions or topics you’d like for me to discuss.  Go either to this blog, email me at or to the Talk to Susanna link on the left.  Thanks!  Look forward to hearing from you!