‘How are you, really?’: Identifying emotions

Photo courtesy of Brené Brown

Story by Jayden Jones, Opinion Editor

“How are you doing?” 

It will never cease to amaze me how one simple question can elicit a myriad of different responses. The answer changes depending on who asks, how they ask, and why they ask. Sometimes it is asked with concern, other times it is simply a social maneuver, a starting player on our small talk line-up. 

The way we answer this question changes constantly. It depends on our mood, our familiarity with the person asking, our environment, and, most importantly, our ability to recognize and express emotion. 

When someone asks me how I’m doing, I’m always taken aback. I can never seem to find time within the space of a few seconds to adequately identify, organize, and process my emotions long enough to provide a satisfactory answer. My go-to answers are “good,” “fine” and “okay.” 

In her most recent book, “Atlas of the Heart,” social psychologist Brené Brown explains that our ability to identify our emotions with as much specificity as possible is actually beneficial to the way we connect with both ourselves and others. 

Photo courtesy of Brené Brown

The premise of “Atlas of the Heart” is to understand the ways humans experience emotion through psychology, sociology and storytelling. While codifying the data she had collected for “Atlas,” Brown realized that the three most common emotions that study participants were able to identify were “sad,” “mad” and “happy.” She argues that diving deeper and articulating more specific, nuanced versions of these three feelings can lead to more knowledge of both self and others. 

It makes sense. To quote philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, ​“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

To illustrate this quote, think about a time when you felt mad. Dive deeper into that experience. Did you feel irritated or furious? Annoyed, peeved, or enraged? Were you resentful or jealous? Were you reacting to an injustice? Were you grieving, but your grief was registered as anger? The difference between “angry” and “grieving” is substantial. It provides a deeper layer of insight into your emotional experience. 

Emotions are covert and nuanced. They are easily confusing, partly because we can experience multiple emotions at the same time. Thus, identifying our emotions with as much clarity and specificity as possible can help us validate our own experience and expand our mindset to better navigate the emotional terrain–especially the gray areas. 

So, the next time someone asks you how you’re doing, after you’ve given a standard “good,” challenge yourself to identify exactly how you’re doing with as much specificity as possible. Are you tired? Exhausted? Drained? Weary? Lethargic? Your emotional experiences are valid and specific to you. They deserve to be articulated and acknowledged.

Categories: Opinion, The Saint