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Classification of Emotions

Psychologists have yet to fully tackle the question “How many emotions do we have?”

Part of the difficulty is because our experiences are so complex and involve so many different factors, so distinguishing one emotion from another is a lot like drawing lines of sand in the desert. It can be hard to determine where one emotions ends or another begins.

Even when we analyze a commonsense emotion like “happiness” or “anger,” we know from everyday experience that these emotions come in many different degrees, qualities, and intensities. In addition, our experiences are often comprised of multiple emotions at once, which adds another dimension of complexity to our emotional experience.

Despite how difficult these distinctions may be, plenty of psychologists have attempted to classify our emotions into different categories.

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Workload Recovery Influenced By Leisure Time At Home

In a new study published in the Journal of Family Psychology, researchers found that the balance between housework and leisure activity played a crucial role in workload recovery and lowering stress levels.

Researchers found that in families where both spouses work, individuals who spent more time doing housework reported higher evening cortisol levels (a biochemical correlated with stress) and poorer afternoon-to-evening recovery.

While husbands often spent more time on leisure activities than their wives, the study also indicated that when husbands help out with housework this can lead to lower stress levels for wives (although slightly higher stress levels for husbands). In addition, husbands whose wives spent less time on leisure activities had better after-work recovery times.

There a couple lessons here. One is that a cooperative household where both husbands and wives share housework is better for overall reduction of stress rather than an uncooperative household (where one spouse has a significant more amount of work than the other). The second lessons is one that I frequently mention on this blog: leisure time is important for life satisfaction (and, my guess, probably overall productivity as well).

But here’s the thing. People always say they are too busy to enjoy themselves. They come home from a rough day at work to find more and more chores to do: pick up kids from school, help with homework, cook, clean, pay bills, etc. But I believe that however busy you may be, it is absolutely necessary that you find time for leisure and relaxation. Here are some suggestions to help get work done and still find time for relaxation:

  • Find ways to divvy up the work (have kids do small chores, carpool, etc.)
  • Try to only focus on tasks that are absolutely necessary.
  • Don’t let your inner clean freak get the best of you. Cleaning the house once a week should be fine.
  • Make a schedule and leave time to actually enjoy yourself.
  • The kinds of breaks you take are important: 20 minutes of meditation may be more rejuvenating to you than watching 2 hours of TV. Try new things and find what works best.
  • Conscious practice over time can build a stable routine.
  • Try to see if you can make some chores more fun by blurring the line between work and play.
  • Also lower stress levels by taking more quality breaks during your workday (start by checking out this list of 50 Stress Relievers That Take 5 Minutes or Less).
  • Don’t be afraid to take a 30-60 minute nap (when done right, it can boost alertness and productivity).

Again, these are just suggestions. And I realize some of this stuff is commonsense, but it’s worth reminding people about. I find people often underestimate the importance of leisure, but it’s something that – in my mind – is crucial to both productivity and life satisfaction. We need to know how to recharge our batteries. I’ve seen people just try to “push through” ridiculous work schedules; maybe sometimes it’s necessary, but it shouldn’t become the norm. Focus on smart work, not hard work, and part of that intelligence definitely includes well-spent leisure time. Enjoy yourself.


Hugging Yourself Can Reduce Pain


Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist at Stanford University, recently wrote about a study that suggests we can reduce physical pain by hugging ourselves.

The study included 20 participants who willingly received small pulses of pain by an infrared laser. The researchers found that during trials when participants had their arms crossed in front of them they reported less pain. Each participant was also hooked up to an EEG, in which brain scans showed smaller spikes of brain activity during those same trials.

Neuroscientist Giandomenico Iannetti from University College London suspects that when we cross our arms in front of ourselves this confuses the brain when processing tactile stimuli. In a way, it redirects our attention from the source of pain to this other tactile overload, which can often help reduce pain. It’s similar to when you pinch yourself in order to distract yourself from another long-lasting and irritating sensation somewhere else in the body. Of course, the lift is usually very temporary, but it does work.

Kelly McGonigal mentions in her article how she prefers the crossed arms position because it mimics the act of giving yourself a hug and expressing self-compassion. That makes me wonder if the intention of giving oneself a hug would lead to even greater reductions in pain. I’d also like to see future research testing to see how this generalizes to psychological pain as well.

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Toxic Happiness: The Downsides of Too Much Joy

Rarely in life are things just “black” vs. “white” or “good” vs. “bad” – but instead different shades of grey.

In my post Depression: The Yin of Happiness, I describe how depressive states aren’t all bad. They can sometimes motivate us to reevaluate our lives and solve personal problems. So in many ways a period of depression can actually guide us to be more happy in the long-term.

The key idea is that while depression may usually be seen as solely “bad” or “negative,” it can actually serve a positive function, especially if our depression is triggered by events that we have control over.

On the other end, while depression can sometimes lead to more happiness, too much happiness can also sometimes lead to more depression.

A recent study by psychologists at Yale University has identified several downsides to “too much” happiness. Here are the main pitfalls they’ve found:

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Feel Free To Disagree

“The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism.”

Wole Soyinka

I have a nasty (yet often rewarding) habit of finding ways to critique nearly everything. Sometimes it really irritates people. They think I’m trying to show off or I’m being pedantic, but I just like progress. One time while critiquing a friend’s opinion he replied, “Steve, you can poke a hole in anything.” I don’t think he meant it as a compliment, but I took it as one anyway.

While it’s not always appropriate to show criticism, sometimes it can spark very healthy discussion. That’s usually my goal. I don’t aim to piss people off, but some people will always find a way to take disagreements personally.

On the other hand, I encourage disagreements. I see them as an expression of our diversity as a species. We all have different viewpoints, different knowledge, and different values, so not only is disagreement inevitable, but it helps us to better understand others, as well as better understand ourselves. Being able to tolerate these differences is a huge mark of maturity and intelligence.

That’s why I encourage readers of this blog to feel free to disagree with me. I know I’m not perfect and I know others have different values than me, so I always appreciate it when people share their thoughts in the comment section or on my Facebook and Twitter. It helps me learn new things and see from alternative viewpoints.

As the quote on the top of this page suggests, being able to disagree is a part of your right to freedom of speech and thought. It’s what makes democracies and free societies work. If we all conformed to the norm, nothing could be improved. We would all just settle for the status quo. But upstanding individuals like Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi, and Thomas Jefferson didn’t settle for the status quo. They exercised their freedom to disagree even when they were the underdogs. And much of the social progress we take for granted today is a result of that kind of bravery; the kind of bravery that doesn’t succumb to social norms or tradition, but pushes the envelope and later emerges into a new standard of living.

I don’t know about you guys, but sometimes I even get suspicious when someone is always in full agreement with me. I guess I find it hard to believe. They may be just trying to please me, but I’d rather they let their personalities shine through more. We shouldn’t be ashamed to hide our differences, as often they are a sign that both parties have something to learn from each other.

So I’m going to keep this message real short: you have your own mind, with your own thoughts, and your own beliefs and values. Use it! Be willing to express it and also be willing to let others express their beliefs. If you find yourself struggling with taking criticism or others disagreeing with you, try some of these tips on how to take criticism.