Christy Matta M.A. is a trainer, consultant and writer. She is the author of “The Stress Response: How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Can Free
Have you ever agonized over a big decision, wondering which option will make you the happiest in the future? Most of us have, at some point, had to make important life choices that have an impact on our future happiness. Big decisions, such as choosing a career path, place to live or a friend all can have a significant impact on our overall happiness.
Even daily decisions influence our feelings. Are you happier if you exercise in the morning, sleep in or spend time with a friend? Is buying a new shirt likely to effect how you feel? Will it result in happiness, because you feel you look good, or guilt at having spent money you should have saved?
Our expectations about which decisions will bring us future happiness impact the choices we make. If we believe buying a new shirt will make us happy, we’re more likely to buy it.
Whether or not our predictions about our future emotional reactions are right, can affect our overall wellbeing. For example, if you believe that living on your own will make you feel strong and self-confident, you’re more likely to strike out on your own. But when you are wrong and, say for example, instead of feeling self-confident, you feel lonely, it has an impact on your mental health.
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Some people seem to be good predictors. The choices that they believe will make them happiest, often do. Others are not as accurate. Some overestimate how happy a particular choice will make them or underestimate the intensity of other emotions, such as guilt, sadness or irritation.
Research on these individual differences indicates that our emotional intelligence, that is our ability to understand and think about our own emotions, accounts for differences in predicting which decisions will make us happier (Emotion, 2012). The ability to identify an emotion and name it, as well as to connect that emotion to the events and thoughts that trigger it are all a part of understanding your emotions.
Your memory also plays a significant role in your ability to predict your future. Remembering your own past emotional reactions to similar events is central to your ability to predict whether any particular choice will make you feel good. Let’s return to the example of whether buying a new shirt will make you feel happy or guilty. The best way to predict your future feelings is to remember how you’ve felt in the past in similar situations.
Certainly we all change with time, so no prediction, even about ourselves, will ever be one hundred percent accurate. But, understanding what contributes to more accurate predictions about your future emotional reactions can help you make choices that contribute to your overall happiness.
So what do you do, if don’t tend to accurately predict your emotional reactions? It’s possible to improve your emotional intelligence, if you find that you often don’t feel how you thought you would, after making decisions. Even if your emotions seem unpredictable now, you can learn more about your emotions and what influences how you feel. The more you understand about your emotions, the better you’ll be able to predict which choices will make you happy.
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