Today in my hot yoga class there was a woman standing in the front row who was ridiculously happy. She had this smile, a very big, toothy smile on her face, the ENTIRE class. I’m not kidding. It lasted the whole hour.
When I first noticed her, I smiled too. After all, smiling is contagious. But within five minutes it just got weird. And plastic, because she didn’t seem real.
A one-dimensional expression of emotion, even happiness, isn’t authentic. No one is happy, that happy, all the time. Especially in hot yoga.
GOD MADE US WITH EMOTIONS
God made us with a full range of emotions. He gave us sadness, gladness, and madness.
- There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4
- Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4
- Be angry and do not sin. Ephesians 4:26
He designed us to feel excitement, fear, guilt, and surprise. And while each personality type has a tendency to camp out in one emotion (see chart below), we have all been wired to play multiple notes on the emotional scale.
Do you remember the Pixar movie, Inside Out?
It was the animated movie about the five emotions inside a little girl’s head. There was Anger (he’s crabby), Disgust (she’s sassy), Fear (he’s a ball of nerves), Joy (she’s happy) and Sadness (she’s blue, literally), but Joy runs the show.
According to Joy, “A good day, leads to a good week, leads to a good year, leads to a good life,” so her mission is to keep Sadness from influencing the little girl’s life.
Of course, denying this emotion creates all the problems in the movie. The little girl was sad but had hidden it behind a veneer of happiness because she didn’t want to upset her parents. It wasn’t until the little girl broke down and admitted her sorrow, that she was able to heal and get better.
Joy wanted the little girl to be one-dimensional in the area of emotion—all happiness, all the time—but that isn’t how we were made and it isn’t real.
ONE DIMENSIONAL EMOTION
Do you ever feel like that little girl with Joy running the show? Do you believe that you should be happy all the time?
Often as Christians we feel like we’re supposed to be one-dimensional when it comes to our emotions. We mistakenly believe three lies about solitary happiness:
- Solitary happiness demonstrates great faith, full surrender, and a commitment to being in the world but not of the world.
Yes, we are different—we are forgiven, filled, and fellow citizens of heaven. But we are still human. We will still experience a variety of emotions as we seek know God, serve Him and submit to His will. For example, we are to rejoice in our suffering (Romans 5:3), not because of our suffering. God doesn’t expect us to jump up and down when we lose our job or fight with our spouse. He expects us to feel things like confusion, hurt, and sorrow in our suffering because that is how He made us. However, as faithful and surrendered Christians we do have the ability to add joy (not subtract everything else) to the hard emotions because we know that God is working for good in it all (Romans 8:28).
2. Solitary happiness is good PR for God.
I remember a friend, who had just suffered a miscarriage, telling me that she hid her real emotions of deep sadness and fear from her non-Christian family because she didn’t want them to doubt that God was good. Trust me, acting like a robot who isn’t affected by pain, doesn’t do anything to draw people to God. It just shows them how much denial you’re in. God doesn’t want us to hide our emotions but instead He wants to meet us in the midst of them so that He can help.
3. Anything but solitary happiness disappoints God.
God knows that it’s hard to be us-to experience loss, to endure injustice, and to face the unknown. And so, for each of these situations, He gave us an emotion to feel. Emotions are the release valve for the experiences of our lives. When we feel our feelings instead of stuffing them down we relieve the pressure that builds up inside us. (Fun fact: most feelings only last an average of 6 minutes.) Not only that, but when we feel our feelings we also communicate to others what’s going on with us. We let people in and make ourselves vulnerable when we express our emotions. God is never disappointed when we lower our defenses and connect with others.
THE FULL RANGE OF EMOTIONS
We need to be able to access all of our emotions if we are going to live an authentic life, but here’s the question,
What if you have no idea how you feel?
How are you supposed to feel a feeling that you can’t name?
How are you to express an emotion you don’t even know is there?
Answer: Use a Feelings Wheel.
The Feelings Wheel is an invaluable tool to help you discern what you are feeling.
The Wheel gives you seventy-two choices to assess what’s going on inside you, twelve for each core emotion. The emotions in the two outside rings provide the variations of sad, mad, scared, powerful, peaceful and joyful. If you identify an emotion from the pink wedge, then you’re feeling some version of joyful. If the word that best describes your state is in the green zone, then you are feeling some version of peaceful. Multiple choice is always easier than fill-in-the-blank, so the Feelings Wheel gives you options so you don’t have to pull an emotion out of thin air.
Once you identify your feeling, you will know what to do next. Check out The Emotional Part of an Authentic Life for the action steps associated with each emotion.
ME AND MY EMOTIONS
Understanding and expressing my emotions has been hard work for me. As a Doer it wasn’t easy to recognize them because I tend to be a thinker rather than a feeler. Improvers usually have the same problem.
I remember being in a counseling session years ago and my therapist made a comment which made me cry. He waited patiently for a few minutes then asked in a gentle voice, “Dale, what are you feeling?” I looked up at him and said, “I have no idea. That’s what I’m paying you for.” These days I use my Feelings Wheel.
As I survey my well-worn Feelings Wheel, I’ll go ahead and share what’s going on with me right now. I hope that my admission might inspire you to be vulnerable with your emotions and make a connection with someone you love. At this very moment I am feeling nervous (because I’m not sure if I’m prepared for my upcoming call with my coach), creative (because I’m finally getting this blog done), and grateful (for my new husband, new house, and my relationship with my daughters). I’m also irritated with my calendar because it keeps flapping open. And I’m feeling thick (not really an emotion), so I’m headed back to yoga tonight. If that singularly happy woman happens to be there, there’s no telling what I might feel. Pray for me.
What are you feeling right now?