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How Are You Feeling?

Everyday people ask, "How are you?" You usually answer, "Fine, thanks. How are you?" They respond, "Fine." And this is probably not true for either of you. No one seems to take this question seriously when it is maybe the most important question in life. How you are feeling impacts on what you do. If you are happy, you are likely to spread your cheer. If you are angry, you are likely to spread your wrath. How you are feeling is also important on a deeper level. It embodies the meaning of life. Is not life about feelings? If someone asks, "How are you?" and you can answer "Content," you are doing pretty well. Being aware of our feelings can help us cope with those feelings, change our behavior, and enrich our lives.

However, answering that question, "How are you feeling?" is harder than you think. Feelings are abstract and confusing. Bad feelings tend to get all jumbled up and are often mistaken for simple anger when in reality they can be disappointment, frustration, worry, sadness, or hurt. So, to help you begin to sort out your feelings, below is a short "Feelings Vocabulary" that you can refer to when someone casually asks, "How are you?" The focus is on bad feelings because these are particularly hard to differentiate.

Anger: This feeling actually arises from another feeling, hurt. First you get hurt, then you get angry. If someone does something to hurt your feelings, you generally get angry at them. When angry, you tend to lash out at others.

Disappointment: Life is full of disappointment. It means you did not get what you wanted. Coping with disappointment is an important life skill because, like death and taxes, it is going to happen. The way to cope with disappointment is to say to yourself, "Oh well, I did not get what I wanted." Then ask yourself, "What can I get?" Focusing on what you can have sometimes helps you be okay with not getting what you wanted.


Frustration: Often confused with anger and disappointment, frustration means you are doing something that is hard to do. It does not mean you cannot do it (that would be disappointment). You might not be able to succeed when doing something challenging, but you do not know yet. Also, frustration does not mean that someone is trying to hurt you (as in anger). Some people, when frustrated, will call themselves "stupid" or "inadequate," thereby hurting their own feelings, and then react with anger. There are three standard responses to frustration: keep trying, take a break, or ask for help.


Guilt: This feeling got a bad rap in the 1960’s which continues today. Actually, it is sometimes good to feel bad about something you did. If people felt guilty a little more, they might behave in a more responsible manner.

Hopelessness: The lack of hope can be a seriously dangerous feeling because it leads to inaction. If there is no hope, there is no point in doing anything, and if you do not do anything, you are likely to feel even more hopeless. When hopelessness feeds on itself like this, it is associated with depression. It is important to always keep life in perspective and find something to be hopeful about, no matter how far away it seems.


Indifference: This is a useful but under-utilized emotion. Indifference is the opposite of love and hate. With both love and hate you have a strong emotional bond; with indifference, there is no bond. You literally do not care. People sometimes fake indifference, but this usually does not help them feel better.


Sadness: A temporary feeling of loss usually causes you to feel down. The loss can be real or imagined, important or trivial. This is also a normal part of life. Usually, it goes away by itself. If it is severe and prolonged, it becomes depression.


Worry: This is when you think something bad has or will happen. Worry tends to use up a lot of energy for no reason because we often worry about things we cannot do anything about. Also, we often worry about things that, even if they do happen, can be ameliorated. Worry can be constructively dealt with by asking, "What is the worst thing that can happen, and if it does, how bad is it really?"

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