What's your Achilles' heel? Mine is definitely anger. I get angry a lot. (I have a lot of other shortcomings, but that's the one that dominates.) I get angry irrationally and I get angry for totally appropriate reasons (though my husband and children might disagree).
So I was immediately intrigued when I came across this piece which delves into the idea of emotional granularity—getting really specific about naming emotions—and how it can help lessen anger.
In an article I swear I could have written, Michaeleen Doucleff talks about her work to lessen her overall anger in life (which would have been a great—and nearly impossible—Happiness Project focus for me). A psychologist gave her a new strategy: to name her anger with great specificity. To stop to notice exactly what was making her angry or what kind of anger she was experiencing and try to categorize it, a process known as emotional granularity.
She quotes another psyschologist, Maria Gendron, saying:
"There's definitely emerging evidence that just the act of putting a label on your feelings is a really powerful tool for regulation," Gendron says. It can keep the anger from overwhelming you. It can offer clues about what to do in response to the anger. And sometimes, it can make the anger go away.
Doucleff writes about some of her particular forms of anger, and I love her label disonophous anger—when two loud sounds (screaming toddler + barking dog in her scenario) are creating anger. My version of this would be polysonophous anger, because I usually have at least three children and one husband all asking me something/yelling/complaining at the same time (with music in the background and something frying or bubbling over on the stove). I really start to lose my composure when all the noises are happening at once, and it's been some consolation to know that I'm not the only one for whom too many sounds is an anger trigger.
And while I could spend quite some time naming and categorizing my angers, I found this strategy immediately useful vis-a-vis all this melancholy I'm experiencing lately.
I've named the Melancholy of Not Living in LA Anymore and the Melancholy of Not Living in Sweden anymore. The Melancholy of Being Too Far From Nature. The Melancholy of Not Living a Creative Life. The Melancholy of Missed Opportunities. The Melancholy of Not Having Worked Hard Enough. The Melancholy of Morning Sunlight on the Dining Table. The Melancholy of Remembering the Men I Have Loved. The Melancholy of Reading Poetry and the Melancholy of Not Reading Poetry. The Melancholy of My Children Not Being Babies Anymore.
The melancholy that really seems to be getting to me lately encompasses several of the above, and I've given it a more encompassing term: The Melancholy of Having Had a Great Life.
My aching for Sweden, where we lived as a family, and my aching for Los Angeles, where I was single, comes from having loved these places and forged life-affirming relationships in them; from being exposed to natural and architectural beauty on a daily basis and going for long walks down trails and side streets and in my thoughts. I feel so lucky and amazed to have had these experiences and to have been who I was in those times (even if I don't want to be there now), and the melancholy comes both from remembering how amazing (parts of) those times were but also how far from me they are now.
Naming that helped so much in feeling less sad about it all. I am sad about these things because I loved them. But man, I got to experience them! I got to live in LA in my twenties! I birthed two children in Sweden and we all spoke a funny language! I made wonderful friends! I got to be in love again and again! I have been to live concerts that made my spine tingle! What a life!
(I love Alain de Botton's thoughts on melancholy. Well, I love Alain de Botton's thoughts on most everything.)
I promise that one day I will write a post that does not end up being all about melancholy. I will write more posts about words and about parenting and about beauty and about things that are happy.
Does this idea of emotional granularity appeal to you? What are your categories of anger, or sadness, or melancholy, or joy?
All photos by me.
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