One particularly uplifting hour I enjoyed this week was spent watching a discussion between the fabulous Dan Goleman, a renowned researcher into emotional intelligence, and our friend Mark Williamson of Action for Happiness. Mark began by asking ‘what exactly is emotional intelligence?’. In a nutshell, Dan explained, it can be summed up in three areas: self-awareness, self-management and empathy. All of these are essential for leadership, friendship and a happy life. And how to cultivate these qualities? Deep breathing, Dan shared, is highly effective in promoting both self-awareness and self-management.
Emotions are the brain’s way of making us pay attention to something from an evolutionary perspective. Our emotions tell us what matters right now, what is important. From a survival perspective, historically emotions kept us alive… we are about to be eaten by a lion – emotions kick in, we flee. Nowadays, however, it can get us into trouble – since the amygdala can hijack the rest of the brain if it thinks there is an emergency… but there really isn’t.
Another practice that can be helpful for developing empathy is a love and kindness meditation. By holding a loved one in your mind, and slowly expanding your awareness out to include more and more people, our levels of empathy are actually elevated. Dan led us through his own kindness meditation, which I enjoyed immensely. I recommend watching the whole talk, but particularly the deep breathing and kindness practices that Dan describes. The video is here, and you can hear about deep breathing at 15.40 and follow the kindness meditation at 20.28 – why not try them out!