When you experience an emotion without knowing the precise cause, you are more likely to treat that emotion as information about the world, rather than your experience of the world. This is known as affective realism. Affective realism causes us to experience supposed “facts” about the world that are in fact created by our feelings. It can leave us trapped in an emotional world of our own making, without realizing that we are the ones who imprisoned ourselves.
Luckily, emotional granularity can be improved. If you can learn to distinguish more precise meanings for “Feeling great” (happy, content, thrilled, relaxed, joyful, hopeful, inspired, prideful, adoring, grateful, blissful . . .) or “Feeling crappy” (angry, aggravated, alarmed, spiteful, grumpy, remorseful, gloomy, mortified, uneasy, dread-ridden, resentful, afraid, envious, woeful, melancholy . . .), your brain will have many more options for predicting, categorizing, and perceiving emotions.
High emotional granularity gives us a much greater range of tools, allowing more flexible responses to our challenges. It allows us to tailor our actions to the underlying causes of our emotions, rather than their immediate appearance.
What this means is that a “bad feeling” is not evidence that there is something wrong. It just means you are taxing your body budget. Emotions are real, but what they seem to be telling you is not necessarily real. Knowing that “negative” emotions are simply our brain’s way of telling us that reserves are running low, we can make intentional decisions to refill those reserves, instead of reaching for less healthy coping mechanisms.
By trying on new perspectives the way we try on new clothes, we can “try out” different body-budgeting regimes. The same way we might allocate more financial resources to one budget category or another, we can do the same with our body budgets.
This can include anything from travel in foreign countries, to spending time with different kinds of people, to reading literature, to trying new experiences. These experiences expose us to different ways of meeting human needs that we may want to borrow for ourselves.
This explains why an emotion like “happiness” can feel like it’s a reaction to external events, rather than generated from within the brain. Even before your brain has finished categorizing a situation as “happiness,” it is also simulating happiness in advance. External perception meets internal construction before you know what’s happening, so it seems like happiness is happening to you when in fact your brain is actively constructing the experience.
This can also become a self-fulfilling prediction: the more you expect happiness to arrive, the more preparations you make for its arrival, and the more likely you are to experience it. Even on a neurological level, you create your own reality.
57 blocks • about 1 month ago