Reflection through Refraction

Paul Ekman makes much of the refractory period of any emotion.  It is quite important to consider this when dealing with challenging ideas and emotions.

Sometimes, rather than go wading into a situation it is advisable to take a step back and let the refractory period complete and move toward reflection.  There is no guideline for how long the refractory period is, and don’t forget that sometimes an emotional event can result in a prolonged mood.  Some people hold onto their emotions long and some realise almost immediately what they are feeling and deal with any unpleasant situations quickly.

Commonly you notice the refractory period with situations around Anger, Fear and Happiness; though of course any emotion could have a refractory period.

First of all, what is it? Refraction of emotion is where you are absorbed by the emotion you are feeling.  Usually because it has become very strong or heightened.  During this time we only tend to accept emotional input that further increases that emotional state.  Imagine that Anger is a red light.  The refractory period would be like wearing glasses with red lenses that only let red light in.  Someone suffering from Anger and in the refractory state being faced by someone trying to calm them would only find this more irritating and further increasing that anger.

Mood can have a big impact too.  Looking again at Anger the situation can build up over a period of time and sometimes once that glass is full it takes just the most minor of events to cause that glass to overflow causing an almost irrational explosion of emotion.  You wake in the morning to find you have overslept, your journey to work is prolonged with traffic jams and people driving without consideration.  You get into the office and find a lot of outstanding work.  Whilst trying your best to get on you have more “urgent” work dumped on you desk.  All these things are building up your anger and frustration and as you are not finding an outlet for these you are approaching your flash point.  Finally, someone makes an off-hand comment that just sends you over the edge and you send out an angry backlash.  You have now entered the refractory period.  From this point forward you are only going to react to further situations that provoke your anger.  People’s attempt at levity would only annoy you more.

Moving on in time, you have had a cup of tea and sat quietly for a few minutes.  Already you are starting to feel calmer.  The flash point you have reached has allowed you to vent all the frustration that you have built up during the day.  You are no in the reflection period.  It is as this point that you look at how you reacted and realise that it may have been irrational.  You are now ready to accept other emotional input.  This is the time most people realise that they need to offer an apology for their behaviour.

Perhaps of all things this is a lesson to ourselves that we should accept our emotions, even the ones that are considered “negative”.  If we release our anger and frustration appropriately at the time of the event, we are much more likely to avoid hitting the flash point.  Other people are more likely to be accepting of an appropriate level of anger for the situation, and you are more likely to accept other emotional input to reduce that anger.

Anger is an acceptable emotion, but remember to be angry at the act and not the actor.

 

Smile and the world smiles with you..

As I have mentioned in a previous post, emotions are infectious, especially when we display them clearly.  There was a social expression carried out a number of years ago looking at how contagious a smile can be.    A busy Railway station concourse already fitted with CCTV was used for the experiment.  In this test three key people were asked to think about something very positive that makes them happy then to continue to think about this while walking around the concourse.  The visitors to the station were then monitored to judge what happened to them after.  As the study was not particularly scientific, it is hard to say how accurate the results were., but it was noticed that everyone who came into contact with the happy person ended up with a smile of their own.

I love the idea of this.  That just by being nice to people you, you might actually improve their day and by proxy the day of everyone else they come into contact with.  Of course the opposite would be just as effective.  Anger and frustration can be passed on in a hundred different vindictive ways.

If you are a driver you may notice this sort of behaviour in yourself.  When we are driving, for some reason some very base emotions get brought out.  Imagine that you are at a junction to a busy road, waiting to get out.  Finally a space turns up and you may your way into the flow of traffic.  You waited ages and no one saw fit to let you out.  Further down the road you see another driver in the same predicament.  The emotional response of most people at that moment is “no one let me out, why should I be any different?”

I have noticed this behaviour in myself, there is a particular junction on my daily commute that can be a bit of a pain to get out of.  However, without fail someone will let me out in to the flow of the traffic with a flash of lights and a gesture.  (A nice gesture I must point out).  You can guarantee that further down the road I would do exactly the same thing for someone else.

As I mentioned on a previous post we are a race built on community.  We are social creatures and before we communicated with words we used gestures and facial expressions to get our point across.  We still do it now though more and more we tend to rely on the words.  As a social community creature we tend to react together, empathising with our community to let them know we understand how they are feeling.  Someone showing anguish will likely be surrounded by people also showing varying degrees of sadness.  They are empathising and confirming to the suffering individual that they understand the reasons for their pain.

So how can we use this knowledge?  As I have said in the title, smile and the world smiles with you.  A smile can be heard over a phone and why do you think you are greeted with a smile on an aircraft?  A genuine smile is comforting, supportive and can even be mischievous.  A smile can light up the room.  Honey attracts more than vinegar.

It is very difficult when we are angry, frustrated or disappointed to get out of that refractory period associated with the emotion, as a result they tend to pass it around.   If we took time to give pause, take a breath and smile; things might just improve.  The physical act of smiling does actually release endorphins.   Whether your smile is caused by genuine amusement or a constructed effort, the effects would be the same.  Even the contemptuous smile can give its own little buzz.

Next time you find the world is working against you, and lets face it, we all have days like that, smile in the face of adversity.  You will feel better for it, and thanks to our community empathy, you might get some help with those barriers that are causing the issues.

 

‘Tis much proved, that with devotion’s visage and pious action, we do sugar o’er the Devil himself.

We are all capable of deceit and of lying,  that is without question, but the reason for the lie could be just as important as the lie itself, especially when it comes to discovering the lie.   Dr. Ekman states that most people lie when there is something to be gained.  That could be financial gain, to prevent punishment, to protect others or even as social lubricants to allow social occasions to be more fluid.

Deceit that is for the protection of others will often be associated with feelings of guilt at the deceit being carried out, but there will be little of shame.  Shame would be apparent when we think of how others view our actions.  But what about when we deceive for personal gain?  The confidence trickster against the mark?

We have a number of issues when we are trying to pin down the deceiver.  When you are looking at personal gain by someone practised at deceiving for gain, very little guilt may be apparent.  They have been able to squash all sign of the subtle sadness from their face, or they have internally justified what they have done so that guilt is no longer felt.  If the possible gains out-weigh the guilt associated with the action in the mind of the deceiver guilt is less likely to show.  Guilt outweighing the gains and it is likely that the act would not have been done at all.  The sweet spot is when guilt and gain are very close to balanced.  The inner turmoil that will keep resurfacing is likely to become quite clear.

Confidence tricksters have usually become very good at what they do.  Think of the professional poker player, they are themselves in a way a confidence trickster.  They bluff and deceive to try to cause you into giving up the game.  Practice makes perfect, and in the case of confidence tricksters of all types this is true.  As they become more successful at what they do, then their risk of discovery starts to decline.  Risk is, as Dr. Ekman says, one of the biggest factors in being able to detect deceptive behaviour.

There are flaws in practised deception though, and one of those is the inability to account for all possible outcomes.  Throw in something unexpected.   Suddenly cognitive load has to increase as they go through the mental gymnastics of trying to work their way around the complication.  As soon as the brain is engaged the emotions can slip out.  Interviewing and interrogation uses some of these techniques to constantly keep the target of the questioning from settling in a comfort zone.  There are elements of the words used and the story told that can also give away signs of the story being constructed as opposed to being remembered, but that deserves a post of its own, or possible a number of posts.

The things to remember about constructed lies is they tend to follow a linear pattern.  They have a start, a middle and an end.  They follow a chronological telling because that is how they were constructed.  This is one of the reasons that random questioning can sometimes be successful. It removes the opportunity for linear stories.   Changing you questions to different parts of the story can be very useful.  This was shown to a degree in the show “Lie to Me”, when a suspect was asked to reconstruct events in reverse order.   Pick something from the middle of the story and ask them what happened before that.

There is an old adage that states “to be a good liar you must have a good memory”.  This is certainly true.  I would also say you have to be able to think laterally too.

People’s success at lying is not just dependent on the quality of the lie and the liar, but also the bias of the target of the lie.  Human nature means that most of us tend to have a truth bias, this is strengthened with people we respect and know.  There are certain professions of course that require a different bias, such as criminal investigators.   We don’t like to think that we have been lied to and sometimes this can be one of the biggest issues.  In a relationship it is usually the deceived partner who is last to know of the deceit; not because the signs weren’t there, but because they have been subconsciously ignored.  We are self deceivers, we lie to ourselves all the time and indeed each other.  Those social lubricants. “How are you?” “oh, I am fine!”

A lie is organic.  It grows and develops and eventually, without care, it can get out of control.  Lies are like scaffolding.  They rely on the strength of the other lies around them, and like chains, they are only as good as the weakest link.

Variety is the spice of life.

Monotony – Bad : Variety – Good

In the daily grind, it is very important to try to stay away from the daily grind.  It doesn’t matter what we do for a job, we will always have those niggling little duties that are tedious but just have to be done.

There are 2 fast ways to cause stress in an employee.   The first is the most commonly understood and recognised, overworked and undervalued.  Asking someone to do more work than they are capable of coping with.  They end up bogged down with their to-do list getting long er and longer with no end in sight.  This is de-motivating and further reduces productivity.  You are looking at someone who is very likely to burn out in a short space of time.

The less recognised cause of stress is the lack of variety.  This is impacts on the creative personality the most.   In many ways this can be more detrimental than over working.  First of all the mind starts to wander, when that happens mistakes start to be made.  Self doubt and stress develop.

Make sure that your staff stay engaged, break up the monotony of the day-to-day with other tasks and challenges that they can get their teeth into.  If there is nothing in their working role that allows that to happen consider a rotational pattern to allow people variety, or allow challenges in other ways.

A challenged and engaged employee tends to be more successful, less prone to making mistakes, and more likely to engage with new ideas when they come along.  A failure to engage and support staff is a slippery slope to malcontent.  Once you have a disgruntled member of staff, it becomes more and more difficult to bring them back.

People have different levels of tolerance for stress and boredom, so there is not yardstick measure of what is right.  Each person should be treated as the individual they are.  Regular contact with the troops is the best way to notice those changes in mood.  This is where larger companies are sometimes sadly lacking.

Listening to the staff is only half the battle and many of the people in this situation may have already reached the point of “What is the point of complaining? Nothing ever changes!”  Sadly, this is very often the case.  Many companies call themselves “Investors in People” and have a nice plaque in their offices to prove it.  In most cases this means that they have training and development programmes in place.  That is not really investing in people, that is just making sure your staff have the skills to do the job.  Once again they miss out that important factor of Emotional Salary.  Remembering that their staff are people and individuals, and not just pieces of equipment.  Companies even avoid calling the staff their people, using instead the term FTE (Full Time Employee).  A personal dislike of mine.  That is distancing language, it is dehumanising the individual into a 35 hour a week piece of equipment.

Everyone has a different set of skills and traits that make them what they are, this should be taken into consideration when you are recruiting and when you are developing staff.  We are still very much in the mind of employing people for a role.  This is fine in its own way, as long as you are clear what the role is and its responsibilities, but how much more amazing would it be to find someone with skills and think “how can I use them?” Now that would be recruitment way ahead of the crowd.

Look at the people you have already, you may have lurking in your teams a new Sales person, a team manager or an analyst.   Don’t get bogged down on if they have experience, aptitude and skill sets can be developed; attitude needs to be nurtured.

No one employs unmotivated negative individuals, they are created by who they work for.

 

Now how are you going to act? The Interview.

One of the most common questions that anyone in non-verbal communications gets asked is “How should I act at an interview?”

My response is usually that you shouldn’t be acting at all.  Though I appreciate this is not what they were really getting at.  Though it is something that is worth bearing in mind.

When you go for an interview you would expect that the person interviewing you would be honest with you, answer your questions truthfully and give you a real understanding of what the new job role would be about “warts and all”.  Would it not be fair to extend them the same courtesy?  When someone is looking for a person to fill a role they need to make sure they are getting the right person for the job.  If someone decided to fib on their application or at interview, you would not have been honest with your prospect employer, but most certainly you would not have been honest with yourself.  You may even end up accepted into a role that you are just not suited for and out of your depth.

It is obvious that the real question should be, “How do I give the best impression of myself at interview?”   That is a different story.  Here are some hints and tips, by no means an exhaustive list but food for thought.

  • Everyone gets nervous at an interview.  When there is a risk involved anxiety is heightened, and in applying for a job you have a risk element to it.  Fail to impress and you will go away with out the job, you will have missed out on a chance at personal gain.  Try and look at thinks objectively.  If you are not successful at interview you are in no worse position that you are at the moment.  I am not suggesting you are completely blasé about things but accept things for what they are don’t focus on the ifs and buts.
  • Offer you hand to the interviewer on first meeting them and greet them by name if at all possible.  Make sure you have had an opportunity to dry your hands before meeting.  Sweaty palms are not pleasant and watching someone rub their hands on their clothes to dry them is a sure give away of nerves.
  • Wait until you are invited to sit before doing so.  Sit with a good posture, but not too rigid and face the interviewer directly.  Turning to the side is a defensive posture and can make you seem closed.  If you are feeling nervous you can subtly adjust your posture to the side, this should help you feel more comfortable but take care not to over-extend this.
  • Try not to fidget.  This makes you look very nervous or like a five-year old in need of the toilet.  Focus on your body in a way that does not detract from what you are doing in the interview.   Fold your hands loosely with your fingers laced together in your lap with your thumbs pressed together.  This is a good neutral posture and should give you a focus, it will also reduce the chance of excessive manipulators being shown.  Be warned though, leaning forward and putting your hands on the desk is a territorial display.
  • Regulate your breathing.  When we are emotionally aroused our respiration rate tends to increase.  This can become very obvious when you are speaking, making your conversation stilted and even slightly asthmatic.  If you are prone to this behaviour, pause and take a slow breath before starting to speak.  Take care not to over emphasise this pause though.  I saw a very bad example of this behaviour during the recent interviews with a certain Media Mogul.  Over extend the pauses and you come off as either disinterested or clueless.
  • Taking a more relaxed posture can help reduce some of the tension, this is fine to do as the interview progresses, but remember to stay attentive.   Being upright and rigid can come across as very tense.  If the chair has arms lean one elbow on the arm and drop the shoulder slightly.  This will give you a much more relaxed look and will also make you feel more relaxed with it.
  • Don’t be afraid of using illustrators, but don’t fabricate them.  Remember a genuine illustrator has a tempo that matches the speech and underlines or emphasises phrases in the speech.   Let them flow naturally but don’t let them get out of control.

Remember, most interviewers will be expecting you to be nervous anyway, so a little trepidation is fine, as long as you are not a gibbering pile of nerves and sinew.  Also consider that these are very general guidelines and should be suitable for most situations.  However, a sales role may expect you to be far more aggressive in your attitude and posture, and confident in your delivery.

Also consider that even if you don’t get past this interview it is a chance to learn and practice, and always thank your interviewer for their time and part with a handshake.

 

With a curl of the lip, he is not Elvis

“Contempt is the weapon of the weak and a defence against one’s own despised and unwanted feelings.” – Alice Miller.

We are all capable of it.  We see a quality in someone who we don’t like or find immoral or substandard and we start the climb to the moral high ground.

Human beings are naturally a social creature and as such we have a certain established social hierarchy.  This has been much convoluted over the years, mainly through the development of our higher brain processes, established deferential protocols in business and so forth.  you have to love that neo-cortex.  However, we are still at the mercy of our limbic brain when it comes to some of our daily interactions.  Contempt is one of the most unusual of the seven base emotions for two reasons.  Firstly, it is the only unilateral expression in that it only happens on one side of the face.  Secondly, it requires a moral comparative to take place.  The other six base emotions do not have to have a second individual involved.  You can be happy, angry or sad, even disgusted without another person being involved.  Contempt requires direct interaction with another individual.  It comes by the assessment of that individual and their actions in direct comparison to how we would behave in the same situation, or as a direct result of a previous interaction.  Contempt is filled with self-identity.  It requires an element of higher brain function but is still shown at the Micro-facial expression level showing that it can still appear on the face before the cognitive mind has a chance to get in the way.

As mentioned contempt is the only unilateral universal expression.  There doesn’t seem to be any definitive study on which side of the face it tends to appear on, but I have noticed (not scientifically measured) that right-handed people tend to show contempt on the left side of the face and vice-versa.  Perhaps others would like to confirm or deny this observation.

Contempt is shown by a tightening of the cheek muscle, pulling the lips up and outwards, almost a half-smile, though there is no involvement with the muscles around the eye.  Sometimes, though not always, the head will tip backwards slightly giving the appearance of  “looking down the nose”.

Let me point out at this time, that Elvis was not showing contempt in his lip curl, though that lip is almost the further extension of the contempt expression into the sneer.  A demonstration that is almost a contempt/disgust blend.  Sometimes the contempt comes with dismissive emblems, the flick of the hand, the closed shoulder and a prolonged blink when using dismissive language.

Contempt is not a pleasant emotion to be on the receiving end of.  It is degrading, it makes you feel worthless.  In a working relationship if a staff member demonstrates contempt for a superior, that working relationship is likely to be unrecoverable.  This can be said also for a customer to a supplier.

As the quote from Alice at the head of this post says; you often see contempt being raised when someone sees something they don’t like about themselves in another person.

Contempt can easily lead to disgust and anger, and that itself leads to a whole heap of problems of its own.

Roll up – Roll up!

“There is something that you are not telling me”

How can you tell if there is something more that someone wants to add, but for some reason they are “holding their tongue”.  There are various ways and these can change depending on cultural background. But I am going to look at a couple of the more common ones.

A fair description of what goes on is what I have already said, holding your tongue.  When you are looking for clues to deception it is not always about telling a direct lie, sometimes deception can be accomplished by omission of information.  This can often be more difficult to spot.

Holding the tongue between the teeth is a signal that someone is trying to resist the temptation to say something, just as is the cheek bite.  Remember though, you may not be sure what the information being held back is.  It may not be a lie as such, there may be no intention of deceit.  They may be holding back on something they feel personally embarrassed or ashamed about.  We must also consider baseline.  This may be a normal operating procedure for them. Maybe they have a sore tongue, maybe they have dry lips.  Only by knowing what is usual, can you see what is unusual.

The other holding sign is the lip roll.  Rolling the lips inwards between the teeth or pressing the lips together so that the darker lip area disappears.  This is a really good indicator that someone is trying to hold back on saying something.  Consider other factors along side.  Nothing happens in isolation, you will need to look at the other signs at the same time.   Rolling the lips with a lowered brown and raised lower eyelid is closer to a sign of anger.  You can almost guarantee that someone is holding in their anger.

You have to consider many options when people don’t want to tell you something.  Don’t assume that there is a vindictive or deceptive reason for doing so.  Perhaps they are considering the impact of what they might say and sparing the feelings of those around them.

To make an assumption on what you see is inviting error.  Dr. Ekman called this the Othello Error.  Making an assumption that what you see means something specific rather than looking at the alternative possibilities.

Just what are you capable of?

So many people have the nay-say attitude, they stand in your way telling you that things can’t be done, that’s not going to happen, you won’t succeed.

For many years I myself felt that I would not accomplish much, and the biggest nay-sayer was myself.  I spent my early working years on a YTS scheme.  For those of you not brought up during the Thatcher years in the UK, this was a way of replacing the Apprenticeship system to get people out of school and straight into work.  Paying a basic limited wage with the intention of learning skills for a job.  I didn’t want this to be my life, but I had bills to pay.

From the age of sixteen I have steered my own path and made of myself what I could.  I am by no means an entrepreneur, but I can say that all my accomplishments have been my own.  Despite being told “you can’t do that!”

The only person that knows what you are capable of, is you!

It is very easy when we are low, when we seem to keep coming up against barriers in trying to accomplish things, to fall into a pattern enforced by people who have no concept of the damage that they can do.

If I had accepted what others believed, I would never have spent eight years as a successful Club DJ.  A career I loved with a passion.  It was hard work.  I worked late nights and usually had to follow those with long waits on station platforms waiting for a train back home.

When I became ill in 2005 and I had to make a decision to leave that life behind for something with more stability.  At the time I really had no choice over that decision, so I never grieved for that loss.  But what would have happened if I would have listened to the people saying that is not a real job?

It is very easy to fall into the trap of self-doubt.  Let us face facts, there are many people out there that are willing to put you down and get in your way if it will further their own agenda.  It can seem like every direction you turn starts to bring up a brick wall and your self-esteem starts to suffer. Don’t let it!

Next time you find yourself questioning your own abilities, or someone else does, remember, only you can know what you are truly capable of.  The challenge is going beyond that boundary to accomplish something more.  Then think of the satisfaction you will have of a job well done.  Let us be honest to ourselves, a little bit of shameful joy at proving the nay-sayers wrong is very satisfying.

Consider also before you discredit someone else’s ideas, consider the impact that might have, and look at a different way of delivering the message.

Remaining positive is key and the Stanislavski method has some elements that can help with this.  When you construct an emotion on your face and in your body posture you will actually start to feel elements of that emotion.  If you start to smile you will start to feel the happier emotion itself.  If you start looking angry you will feel the irritation and frustration you associate with anger.   Use this method to your advantage.  Next time you are feeling that low ebb, raise your head, jut out your chin, square your shoulders and challenge the world to a fight of wills you know you can win!

Infectious Emotions

As I have mentioned in a previous post, we are an empathic race.  We react to the emotions of people around us and mirror those emotions ourselves.  This is something that must be considered when you are in a working environment.  They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but more accurately contempt breeds contempt.

When building a team of people you have to consider a number of factors.  Firstly, you have to look at the skill sets that you are putting together to make sure there are no holes in the talent pool that you have.  But a lot of people when building a team don’t  seem to spend a lot of time looking at the emotional make up of the people they are putting together.  Ever since the early 90s a lot of stock has been put into psychometric testing.  Personally, I not only think these tests are flawed but can be manipulated and wildly inaccurate.  The same can be said in a way for assessment tests.

Scientists will often say that lab experiments have a built-in flaw.  But putting things into controlled settings you are removing an element of chance or chaos.  The unexpected.  I would say the same of the assessments that some staff are put through as part of the interview process.  You have been made aware that an assessment is part of the process.  You have had an opportunity to prepare, there is nothing really unexpected about it.

Psychometrics will tell you a little about someone’s character as long as they don’t know how to fool the tests, and assessments will give you an idea of someone’s reasoning abilities, but what about when things suddenly change?

Sudden onset of a stressful situation can change the dynamic and really turn the tables on the team.  Someone who tests well could become a complete liability.  Logical thinkers can not always take that leap of faith and think on the ball and come up with an inspirational solution.   Logical thinkers test well because there is a process to follow from start to finish.  Activists, or kinetic thinkers,  get bored by the hum-drum.  When situations are controlled and planned, they can get bored and can become easily distracted, looking for the next challenge.  These are the people who don’t tend to test well, but when you put them on the spot in a tense situation they shine.

What does this have to do with infection emotions?  If you get someone inclined to panic, you could end up in a situation.  Panic is a strong emotional response and falls under the Fear family of emotions.  In many cases it can overwhelm the calm.  Fear is demonstrated on our faces to warn people that something is happening they need to be aware of.  The signal needs to be passed on so that the whole community can be aware of the risk.

A good team should have elements of both logical and kinetic thinkers and the responsibilities of each team member should match their skills.

We are very set in our ways when it comes to recruitment.  There are ways that things are done, because that is the way they have always been done.  Almost like sheep everyone does the same thing without looking at different ways of doing things.

I am a firm believer that attitude is far more important than any already pre-existing skills in a new recruit.  Passion and attitude is far more difficult to create.  Aptitude and skills can be trained and learned.

So if someone doesn’t hit your target score on your assessment for working out percentages and synonyms.  If they have passion, drive, enthusiasm and an over all belief in your company and what it stands for; give them a chance, a job and buy them a calculator and a dictionary.  If someone truly believes in the company they are working for, they will work to overcome the issues of skill themselves.

The way that our financial climate is at the moment I believe that some companies need to look at the way they recruit.  There is a huge pool of untapped talent out there that is getting overlooked because they failed to score well on a test.

 

The Joy of Melancholia

There is a tendency these days to state that any form of low mood is a form of depression and should be dealt with post-haste.  With elevated public awareness of mental illnesses and stress or as it is often termed these days Mental Health, we seem to be under the impression that feeling a bit down is a bad thing.

Our emotions are there to help us through our day-to-day life.  They all have a reason to exist and have a defined purpose in what they do.  Moods are a more prolonged but less intense form of emotional state.  They allow other emotions to occur at the same time but can colour the way you react to other emotional stimulus.  Why do we have such an issue about “negative” emotions (I already have issue with the term negative as there is a positive reason behind all emotions.)

Some people will deliberately go to the cinema or watch a DVD that will cause them to feel scared or sad.  The classic “weepy” film still has a huge following. People go to theme parks to ride roller coasters and watch a horror film or a thriller to be scared.  If these emotions are so negative, why do we sometimes indulge them?

If we had no emotional ups and downs everything would be on an emotional level.  We would be terribly bored!  We sometimes need those low points in our life as they put the high points into sharp relief.  If we didn’t have fear would we ever really feel safe?  If we did have sadness, would we ever really be happy?

There is something terribly satisfying about coming out of the other side of a negative mood.  There is a sense of victory at getting over it and moving on.

Fear has a reward of its own, adrenaline.  That rush that you get when the heart races and breathing increases.  Once the adrenaline breaks down other chemicals in the system give you an almost euphoric high.  We love the thrill of danger, within certain limits.  We still have a very strong sense of self-preservation, and danger is all very well if it is still perceived as having some degree of safety to it.  The fairground thrill ride is a thrill because it scares us, but has its safety checks and restraints.  For the same reason people bungee or abseil.  Your are unlikely to see many people riding a coaster with a poor safety record.

So what about sadness?  There is no doubt that people love a good weepy movie.  Indeed Hollywood has made a very lucrative business out of tugging our heart-strings.  But why are they so successful.  There are two reasons that immediately come to mind.

Firstly, a sad situation on a movie can throw our own life into sharp relief.  There is the though in the mind that someone else is always worse off than we are.  There is the new perspective offered by seeing that things are not so bad.  Most of the time people do tend to watch these films when they are particularly low in their life and often they are going through the same situation as the person on the screen, surely this would compound the issue?

The reason for this can be quite simple when you think about it.  As a race we are empathic creatures.  We feel the emotions of others quite keenly.  When we see an emotion on the face of another we tend to mirror that emotion, especially if we have a connection to that person.  We do this without even realising we are doing it.  It is our way of letting others know that we know we understand how they feel.  We tend to mirror but often to a lesser degree.  If someone is showing an expression of Anguish, we are unlikely to show the same.  That could be seen as mocking.  We would demonstrate sadness to show that we understand how they are feeling, but we know there is a limit on how we should feel in relation to someone else’s pain.

So why do we watch sad films when we are feeling low?  Why do we watch a film about divorce and heartbreak when we are going through the same thing?  It is reverse empathy.  We want that feeling of community and that we are not alone.  Rather than impose that uncomfortable feeling on our friends we watch someone going through the same things so that we can empathise with them and on a subliminal level, they are empathising with us.

Romantic comedies have the same draw and for very similar reasons.  We see someone in emotional difficulty but we are given the opportunity to laugh at their situation, because that is the easiest way to laugh at our own.  We often use comedy to mask true feelings or to get a message across in a way that is more easily accepted.

There is no excuse for Meg Ryan though, and if you ever want to see a textbook example of stone-walling, watch her interview with Michael Parkinson.  

So why the joy of melancholia. I term melancholy as that time when you are just feeling out of sorts and slightly low.  You want to withdraw from the world for a little while and just be with yourself.  You feel disassociated from the world around you.  You can get snippy and peevish for no real reason.  I think this is perfectly healthy.  Indulge the melancholy.  Go and sit quietly for a while in your favourite seat, watch the rain pour down the windows and treat yourself to your favourite temptation.  Wrapped up in your favourite woollen jumper and the cat on your knee.  What can be better than that?

Even anger has its place.  Sometimes you need to be angry.  If you bottle all that anger up eventually you are going to end up in a flash-point situation where the slightest thing would be like a spark to a powder keg.  If you feel angry then feel angry.  At least then your anger is focussed in the right direction and unlikely to be vented on an undeserving target.

We should indulge our emotions and feelings, though we should avoid being a slave to them.  Analyse why you are feeling the way you are, then either rationalise it and move on, or accept it and indulge it.