Science has identified the few experiences that are critical for happiness.
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Do you neglect your emotional life?

By John Ince

We all want to be happy, right?

I’m not so sure.

When you really desire something you get curious about it, spend hours investigating it, talking about it, experimenting with it.

So if you want to make lots of money you devote a big part of your life figuring out business, maybe even studying it at university.

If you desire a sexy body you learn how to push weights, jog for miles, or do yoga poses. If you yearn to speak another language you move to another country or take a course and practice at home.

Clearly millions of people want those things.  That is why  there are countless business colleges, gyms, yoga studios and second language schools all over the world catering to that demand.

But if everyone is pursuing happiness why are there just a handful of institutes on the planet that help ordinary people grow happier?

The lack of almost any such infrastructure suggests there is not much demand for that service. It seems we don’t want happiness enough to get it the way we get everything else.

Why?

Because happiness is an emotion.  And emotions don’t interest most folks.

What we choose to speak about is a good indicator of what we value. Anything that is truly important to us we are apt to discuss. But we rarely converse about our feelings. Our emotional voice is mostly silent.

An interesting exercise is to monitor the emotional content of your discussions.  Try to identify how often you use feeling words like “sad”, “happy”, “angry,” depressed, “surprised”, “loved”. If you are like most people, you will find that you speak them rarely, even to people you are emotionally close to.

You might also discover that you confuse thoughts for feelings, saying “I feel that we should go now” or “I feel that you are wrong.”

Whenever you hear the phrase “I feel that”, the word that indicates that an idea rather than a feeling is being expressed.  Try to observe your conversations and see if you and others make that same mistake. I did for several years until a therapist pointed out my error.

Our failure to talk about our emotions helps keep them murky. When we don’t look inside and try to describe in words to another person what we find there, we can’t get familiar with that inner landscape.

In contrast, emotional dialogue gives us the maps to navigate our feeling world. Without them we rarely explore down there and thus never get interested in it.

The primal community reflects the prevailing lack of juice for emotions. The same evolutionary science that informs Joyshift is also behind the very popular paleo diet and Crossfit physical fitness system. The former has been around for over twenty years and the latter for over fifteen. Literally millions of people are now aware of the primal perspective on our physical health.

But the concept of “primal happiness” is almost completely unknown. You probably never heard the term until you found this blog or my book. The overwhelming focus of the primal community’s blogs, books, videos and  conferences is on the body, not our emotions. Like everyone else, primalists mostly give our feelings short shrift.

My emotional life might have stayed in the background of my consciousness forever except for a pivotal life event that occurred when I was in college.

One day I walked up to a urinal to pee and out of my urethra poured blood. Tests revealed I had bladder cancer.   When I heard the news the fear that gripped me was more intense than any emotion I’d ever felt.  

I was lucky that surgery cured me, but the brush with mortality forever changed the way I related to myself. It elevated the importance of my feelings, made me much more sensitive to quite subtle emotional impulses. My feelings began to get as much attention as my thoughts.

That change significantly affected my life. For example, it shaped my legal career. I was originally attracted to the law because of its intellectual challenge.

But I soon discovered that the traditional legal practice areas – real estate, corporations, crime, accidents  – did not appeal to me much. Instead I developed an interest in how the law affected human emotions, specifically, our sexuality.

So I devoted much of my legal career to cases involving sex, especially sexual censorship. They were both intellectually and emotionally educational.

Eventually I wrote a book, The Politics of Lust, describing how social institutions like the law impact our deepest sexual impulses.  My interest in feelings then lead me to study happiness, write the book Joyshift: the journey to primal happiness, and publish this blog.

I know there are significant numbers of people who, though rare,  have a similar passion for the emotional side of life. If you are reading this post, there is a good chance you are one of them.  If so I am delighted that you have landed here and hope that you will get involved.

If your emotional world holds little interest to you, please stay tuned. I hope to persuade to open up to that part of yourself. Your ultimate reward will be a much happier life.

If you have not done so already, do the exercises described in this post and this post. They will give you a structure for monitoring your emotional self, and launch you on the journey to more joy!