How To Access The Feelings That Are Just Right For The Occasion

Barry Bricklin, Ph.D.

Access Good Feelings

Based on the groundbreaking research and theories of acclaimed neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, we know that feelings reflect the working efficiency of the biological processes that sustain and enhance life. When we are in the presence of an external or internal entity, for example, a meal or a thought, if it is perceived as conducive to the continuation of life the feeling produced will be a good feeling, and if it creates a bad feeling the entity perceived will have been perceived as detrimental to the flourishing of life. Even the THOUGHT of something you are doing could be seen as essential for a flourishing life, for example, thinking about finishing a project you are working on, can create good feelings.

When humans developed a nervous system and “minds,” they developed the ability to link their inner states with things in the outer world. It is this linkage that allows us to distinguish in the outer world what are perceived as beneficial options from those that are detrimental. When we are in the presence of anything (internally via body part functioning or mental activities, or externally by objects in our surrounding worlds) that points to benefit, we feel good, and when anything in our inner or outer worlds is seen as detrimental to a flourishing life we feel poorly.

Feelings can be used purposefully to help us in many ways: as motivators (their innate job), and as a way to create a comprehensive view which yields multiple-perspectives, as well as enhance creativity, pattern-recognition and rational cautiousness.

The most basic job of a feeling is to provide fuel as drives, motivations, and purposes, to push us to seek benefit and avoid harm. Good feelings, in motivating us to find even greater good feelings, account for 99 per cent of the products we invent, manufacture, mine, build, collect, sell and purchase. You can find 606,000,000 of them just on Amazon. There are millions more.

Here is how to access a particular feeling state. Remember, the only biological information in a feeling is its valence, the degree to which it feels good or bad. So how come there are at least 400 words that denote seemingly discrete feelings? The short answer is that we have assigned names to them. Humans experience feelings in certain settings, a long time ago after a successful hunt, finding a mate, having a child, and later at birthday parties, funerals, job successes, and so forth. Based on our understanding of these situations and what they imply, humans made up names, names like joy and elation for good feeling states, and sadness and anger and hatred for bad feeling states, so as to match our understanding of what we think we should be feeling based on the nature of these situations. We experience our feelings in terms of the labels we’ve made up. And it turns out the easiest way to access feeling states is by way of the words we use to refer to them. You can also use facial expressions and memories of selected real-life emotional events such as taught by Konstantin Stanislavski to people who aim for careers as actors, but that takes a lot of practice. Using the words suggested will serve very well as access-portals to desired feeling states.

No one does a better job of explaining the power of words than Dr. Lisa Feldman-Barrett. Here are some points she makes:

  • The mere sight or sound of a word can access experienced feelings.

  • Words are the best shorthand we have for communicating concepts shared by a group, and allow us to place ideas straight into the minds of others.

  • Words allow us to break down complex, ever-shifting feeling-laden attitudes and simpler feelings into many component parts. A particular type of “happy” might be elated, awed, blown-away, freaked-out. These distinctions allow us to see far more of the world’s potential than would otherwise be possible. (The more the words used to represent a feeling-state the higher what Dr. Feldman-Barrett calls its “granularity.”)

  • By the same token words allow us to combine feelings. When we have a feeling it usually elicits a slew of other feelings, each unique. Words allow us to pinpoint all the shadings of feelings flowing through us.

  • The more we can break down feelings into separate categories, the more we can control them.

  • How we choose and use words has a huge influence on others. If you ask a child “Why are you upset?” you are actually telling a child he or she is upset. What you are seeing may be, to the child, surprise not upset.

  • Words can communicate important things that cannot be observed, like goals or intentions.

(This excerpt is from the book WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT FEELINGS: How to Make Sure They Help You, Village Publishing, 2020.)

About The Author

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A Clinical-Forensic Psychologist at Bricklin Associates, Barry Bricklin, Ph.D., served on the faculty and/or lectured at Jefferson Medical College, Hahnemann Medical College, Widener University, Temple University, and Johns Hopkins University, teaching psychotherapeutic, psycho-diagnostic and forensic procedures. Dr. Bricklin is the author of dozens of books, book chapters, and articles on psychology, psychotherapy, marriage problems, child custody issues and neuroscience. Several of his books have been translated into multiple languages.

You can learn more about Dr. Barry Bricklin by visiting his website and via LinkedIn

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