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Emotional Intelligence and Happiness

Updated: Feb 10, 2021

Early in under-grad, I remember fumbling in front of someone I really wanted to be friends with. My immediate thought: “He’ll think low of me!”. Associated emotion: Under-confidence & embarrassment. Resulting behavior: I started avoiding him. Why? Because in my mind I had wrongly labelled myself as - “Fumbles at English, so not good-enough friend material”.

This interconnected loop of thoughts, emotions & behaviors is called ‘The Cognitive Triangle’. Emotional Intelligence, put simply, is about being aware, real-time, of the loop we’re running in our brains and then to change that loop if it isn’t serving our purpose.

Sounds easy, right?

Imagine being the captain of India’s cricket team. Having to manage so many variables as you try an accomplish your single purpose – to win. A team member mis-fields and you feel angry but then you realize that the anger will not help you win perhaps. Another team member causes your best batsman’s run-out and you feel frustrated but your energies are better spent in planning “What to do now?” rather than being in the frustration. There’s someone who we know who does this rough task really well. In workshops, when we get to the question “Which popular personality is the most emotionally intelligent?”, many people mention, M.S. Dhoni. In one of his interviews, he mentions how ‘he evaluates the usefulness of a thought and only then proceeds with engaging with it.’ What he’s referring to is that most times, his mind is not able to hijack him into rumination mode. Or he is able to exhibit emotional intelligence.

But does emotional intelligence make us happier?

In a lot of ways such management of self and relationships is central to all our life. And our capacity to be aware and regulate ourselves too often decides how well a situation turns out to be. In fact, more than the situation, this capacity determines how much in control of our lives we feel. This sense of being able to keep ourselves calm & cool is a major constituent of happiness. No wonder, in one of the highly cited researches from London University, a three-step hierarchical regression (considered a ‘Gold’ standard) showed that trait Emotional Intelligence explained over 50% of the total variance in happiness.

So, can we really become emotionally intelligent? And if yes, how?

The good news is yes. And while the journey is long and has different aspects, it starts by building intentional self-awareness. A Harvard study shows that for ~50% of our day, we’re not self-aware. This makes it easier for self-deprecating loops that end in labels like “Fumbles at English, so not good-enough friend material” to gain control of us. Which means, we start by pushing up that percentage to be more in control of our loops. That starts with practicing intentional awareness, or in popular parlance, Mindfulness. In our workshops and programs on Emotional Intelligence, we bring the experiential practices that with regular implementation can help not just regulate our loops but also empathize with other people's loop in real-time.

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