By Susan Dunn
Another Christmas come and gone. What a workout for the emotions!
I’m the EQ Coach, but that doesn’t mean I know all there is to know about emotional management – it’s a lifelong proposition; and it doesn’t mean my emotions don’t give me a run for their money – remember, 2 of our 3 brains don’t take orders.
I am reminded myself many times of the tenets of emotional intelligence during Christmas, and it was very helpful.
This Christmas was especially joyful for me, and also heart-rending. I was preparing my house to sell. No big deal? As we say in the field, it isn’t what’s happening, it’s what it means to you. This is the home I raised my children in, and the childhood home of my son who died, at 21, in 1999. For months I couldn’t touch his room. My coach told me to move to Dallas to be near my surviving son, but how could I? His smell was still in his room. New painting and carpeting removed this last earthly reminder of him, though I suppose it was long gone, and I packed up the things of his I’ve kept, preparing for the move.
At the same time, my older son and his family were coming from Dallas to spend a last Christmas in this house. I asked myself many times what my intentions were. To be miserable or to be happy seemed the two alternatives, either giving into the sorrow completely, or stuffing it down and slapping on a happy face. What would an emotionally intelligent person do? She would experience all the emotions as they come and go, feeling the pain, feeling the joy, and having Christmas.
My intention was to enjoy the last Christmas in this home, with happiness in the way Dr. Seligman, the Optimism guru, means it. There is happiness from pleasure, goodness and meaning, he says, and only one of these necessarily involves what we call “positive emotions.” There’s the Life of Pleasure – sugar cookies, orgasms, new toys. The Good Life -- knowing your strengths and crafting your work, relationships and leisure to use these for flow in your life. And The Meaningful Life -- to use these strengths in the service of a larger purpose.
I also intended to establish a budget and stay within it. This is a very emotionally intelligent thing to do if you want to enjoy the months after Christmas. If you do, there are no reparations to make!
Intentionality also means focusing on the task at hand and not being distracted. And Learned Optimism means avoiding the downward spiral. The happy, smiley, ebullient cheerful affect, which psychologist’s call “positive affectivity” is inherited he says, and has a normal distribution. This means about half of us have it, and the rest of us don’t. It is not, therefore, associated with anything but what you’ve been born with. Interesting.
Further, he adds, the amount of pleasure in life you have does not add to life satisfaction.
My intention, then, was to experience this last Christmas in this house to the fullest. This meant I was able to take my granddaughter to the church Christmas pageant. My son who died used to sing with the San Antonio Boys Choir. He had the voice of an angel. One special memory is the year the Choir accompanied the SA Symphony and Houston Ballet, singing the chorus of the Snowflakes at the end of Act I of "The Nutcracker". I drove a carload of the boys down for rehearsals, and amidst the usual young-boy ruckus, one of the other of them would start singing the haunting melody. It’s meant for young boy voices. My granddaughter sang it to me in the car on the way to church. Life is bittersweet; emotions are bittersweet. Later during the church service, her shenanigans kept me distracted and in touch with the moment. I was also able to delight in the children who sang, the children who were alive, so very alive. Life goes on and we go with it. So do our emotions, and we are our emotions. To deny one is to deny them all.
We grieved when the pumpkin pie was served, his favorite, and we laughed at the baby, and we had a Christmas.
I lecture on emotional intelligence on cruises, and I scheduled one for the first two weeks in December. Cruises are relaxing and rejuvenating to me. It was a good idea. I approached Christmas tan and rested. Build reserves.
Reserves apply to all areas of life – rest, money, people. And chaos applies to your best-laid plans. Expect it and be surprised if things go right. Something crucial will break – an oven, a dryer. When I woke up the day before company arrived with no heat, I reminded myself that everything was in order. It didn’t bust my December budget either. Always have reserves!
Perfectionism is a prescription for misery because we can’t be pleased with ourselves or others. As I cruised the grocery aisles finding some things unavailable, I reminded myself that Christmas dinner didn’t have to be perfect, just “good enough.”
Relentlessly & Adamantly Self-forgiving
One thing that’s hard for perfectionists, and probably for everyone, is that sense of personal failure. If I’d shopped sooner, the shelves wouldn’t have been bare of necessities like white sprinkles and small turkeys. But what would your emotional intelligence coach tell you? To be self-forgiving.
Flexibility & Creativity
And when the vital red tablecloth was missing, it was time to be flexible and creative. There were other things available in the store. I took it as a challenge to my creativity to reorient and move on.
It’s a good time of year to have a strong social network! People who know you, the real you.
Especially nice when you’re in a helping profession. It’s an emotionally turbulent time of year. In the wonderful circle of life, my clients lean on me, and I lean on others. We all support, learn and grow.
I received many expressions of appreciation. One client I’ve worked with for a year who’s been unemployed, for instance. He got a job the week before Christmas, invited back to a former job where he’d been treated poorly; a great affirmation. The staff had welcomed him back, calling it a Christmas miracle, he told me. He said 3 things had pulled him through, one of them being me, his coach. This gives me great satisfaction, and satisfaction runs deeper and wider than pleasure.
Seligman refers to hedonic motives, pursuing pleasure, enjoyment and comfort, and eudaimonic motives, pursuing personal growth, developing potential, achieving personal excellence and contributing to the lives of others. “Eudaimonic pursuits [are] significantly correlated with life satisfactions,” Seligman says, “whereas hedonic pursuits [are] not.”
This week after Christmas, I’m busy putting the final touches on my new emotional intelligence programs and ebooks for the New Year. It’s my intent to make EQ available to even more people in the coming year, and continue the outreach to businesses.
As the dust settles after Christmas, and thoughts turn to the New Year, ponder what worked last year and what didn’t, and make resolutions to grow and learn. Studies show that resilient seniors have combined study, work and leisure through all phases of their lives.
As we coaches say, “If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting.” Emotional intelligence is about flexibility, creativity and resilience in the face of change.
Make it one of your resolutions this year to develop your EQ. It covers every aspect of your life and contributes much more to your satisfaction and success than your IQ.
About the Author
Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach, is a professional coach specializing in emotional intelligence, and marketing on the Internet. She is the author of numerous ebooks including Marketing Secrets of the Pros and Writing for the Internet and has EQ products for licensing. She is widely published on the Internet, and a regular speaker for cruise lines.