A long-term study of college students, The Grant Study, tested their vocabularies while also asking the group to rate their level of happiness. For over fifty years the test subjects with the largest vocabularies declared the greatest satisfaction with their lives.
For many of us the vocabulary to express emotions is limited to a few words. Additionally many people were raised to not express feelings and find it difficult to connect their emotional states to words. Others may say I feel, but they are expressing a thought: I feel that we should elect a new mayor. Replace the words I feel with I think, and the opinion becomes obvious.
Being unable to communicate emotions, due to a lack of vocabulary or an inability to connect words and feelings, damages our relationships and prevents the creation of healthy life-long relationships.
Learning to distinguish between thoughts and feelings. We need to help our children and ourselves learn to differentiate thoughts from feelings. Marshall Rosenberg, in his book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, says that feelings are not being clearly expressed when the word feel is followed by certain words.
1) That, like and as if. Examples: I feel that nobody listens to me. I feel likean idiot. I feel as if I’m in a box.
2) Pronouns I, you, he, she, it, they, it. Examples: I feel I’m being used. I feelit is a lost cause.
3) Names or nouns referring to people. Examples: I feel John is responsible for the situation. I feel the child is being manipulative.
Interestingly enough, when we express a feeling we don’t need to say I feel. For example, I am feeling sad or I am angry express feelings and not thoughts or opinions.
Once we learn to tell the difference between thoughts and feelings, the next step is to distinguish between our self-opinions and feelings.
Learning to distinguish between self-opinions and feelings. It’s easy to fall into the trap of using the phrase I feel to express who or what we think we are. I feel I’m a terrible tennis player doesn’t express emotion but gives an opinion. I feel frustrated when I play tennis, I don’t enjoy playing tennis, I’m disappointed with my tennis game–these statements reflect feelings.
After we begin to see the difference between self-opinions and feelings, we need to look at I feel statements to see whether they might reflect our impressions of others’ opinions.
Learning to distinguish between our impressions of others’ opinions and our feelings. We need to keep our antennae up when using I feel statements to understand if our words are telling us more about how we think others are behaving, or what opinions others have of us. I feel stupid communicates more of what you think others are thinking about you rather than your true feelings. I feel discouraged may express your honest emotions about your interaction with others.
Be aware of these words. Here are words used with I feel statements that express how we think others are thinking. I feel (fill in the blank): boxed-in, bullied, cheated, cornered, interrupted, intimidated, unheard, unwanted, used. These words do not express true feelings.
Build an emotional vocabulary. My seventh-grade English teacher forbade us to use the words ”good” or ”nice” in our writing, a great way to enlarge emotional vocabulary and to sense the truth in a situation. Which words better communicate feeling good? Carefree. Jubilant. Amazed. Thrilled. Pleased. Moved. Excited. Or feeling bad? Afraid. Bewildered. Blah. Blue. Fidgety. Lonely. Irritated. Resentful.
When we can express our feelings clearly we connect with others more easily. With authentic connections to others, we resolve conflict more simply, leading to healthy and happy people. Or should I say, merry, or mirthful, or enchanted, or satisfied, or excited….
I recently came across this book, Dictionary Of Emotions: Words For Feelings, Moods, and Emotions. Written by Patrick Michael Ryan, this book offers over 340 pages of emotional vocabulary. Pair it with the Emotional Journal to keep a daily record of emotions and you are on your way to learning a lot about yourself.