“Let's not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh
It’s easy to pay attention to the big emotions of our lives: Falling in love, grief from losing a loved one, pride for a hard-won accomplishment, or disappointment caused by betrayal. There’s no way to avoid those huge swells, positive or negative, because they take over our lives. Reading this Van Gogh quote made me think about all those tiny emotions that we feel at every moment, and that often pass by unconsciously: frustration at getting on a crowded subway car, wincing at the sting of the cold weather, gratitude when someone holds the door open for us, and joy from an encouraging message from a friend. These smaller emotions, while less significant in size, can add up to a great deal of our happiness quotient.
How do we feel about lives in the empty moments, when nothing particularly emotional is happening, when our lives are just humming along without any type of massive shift? In those quiet moments, we get a sense of our base emotions and attitude. The trick is to recognize and appreciate that empty moment. With all of the opportunities to fill up empty space, it’s easy to avoid ever having an empty moment. The empty moments are important because they allow us to take stock of the little emotions; they let us get a sense of where we are on the happiness curve.
On the way to work this morning, I was thinking about how we handle the constant tweaks of the little emotions that every day circumstances cause. Because I just interviewed Sasha Abramsky, author of Inside Obama’s Brain, I’ve been considering Obama as a role model for how to conduct our daily lives. Whenever Obama is thrown a curve ball, and isn’t quite sure how to react, he smiles. We can observe this behavior in his debates, during his press conferences, and during one-on-one media interviews.
The smile lets him pause, gather his thoughts, and remain outwardly composed in the process.
This tactic gives him the opportunity to work through his small emotions, rather than having to obey them. And he looks good all the way through the process: he looks as if nothing ever phases him and provides a thoughtful, articulate response. A wonderful example to manage the little emotions we all experience.