Tips to better your emotional intelligence and become a better person

Emotional intelligence is essential for self-improvement and bettering your health and social relationships. Here are four basic principles from an 80-year study that can help.

 FOCUS ON the positive in others.  (photo credit: TIM MOSSHOLDER/UNSPLASH)
FOCUS ON the positive in others.

You can spend a lifetime reading books and articles to learn how to become smarter and healthier, but all that research won't change anything if you don't also invest in some serious work on emotional intelligence.

When this gets neglected, it can affect people in ways they may not even be aware of, as evidenced by a fascinating study.

One example that illustrates this point is the need many people have to always prove that they're the smartest ones in the room.

However, it is very difficult to admit that they are ever wrong, as well as to be able to learn and improve themselves. By that same logic, if people believe that quitting or giving up are signs of weakness, it can make them stubborn and keep fighting, even for a lost cause. As a result, they'll miss out on other opportunities.

A massive 80-year study

Previous reports described the "longest study in the world" that was conducted at Harvard University. It started back in 1938 and followed 724 men and their descendants for over 80 years to answer the question: What makes people happy and healthy?

As researchers observed the descendants of the original participants, fascinating conclusions continued to emerge from their data.

 How can you manage high levels of stress in your day-to-day life? (illustrative) (credit: PEXELS)
How can you manage high levels of stress in your day-to-day life? (illustrative) (credit: PEXELS)

Much has been published about the findings of this study over the years, which showed, among other things, that people with better-quality relationships are the most likely to be healthier and happier. But alongside this significant conclusion, there are some other interesting findings that are related to emotional intelligence and the extent of its impact on all of our lives.

These four principles will improve your emotional intelligence

it is widely understood that relationships are important, but how can people develop relationships that will be beneficial and not detrimental? In this context, research directors Robert J. Waldinger and Marc Schulz published a book called The Good Life, where they wrote that people with high emotional intelligence are those who don't ignore their feelings and don't make decisions without first thinking about the consequences of their actions.

Helping people be more connected to their emotions could over time benefit their health, happiness, and quality of life. In order to do this, consider following these basic principles:

1) If people want to understand their own emotions, it is important to experience them and give them correct labels. In psychology, this method is called "value tagging" and it helps especially when dealing with complex emotions like anxiety, sadness, anger, or jealousy. When these feelings float to the surface, try to tag them without assigning judgment or subjecting them to an in-depth analysis. Try to understand how they affect the body, where in the body you can feel them, and how long they last.

2) After mastering the ability to tag emotions and understand their effects, it is possible to try and interpret what's really causing them. Waldinger and Schulz wrote that many social situations are vague and unclear, and into this fog, people tend to insert all kinds of ideas and interpretations. If you know how to observe emotions and understand them, it can give you more information to better understand what is actually happening without jumping to conclusions.

For example, if someone is under pressure at work and a colleague they dislike demands they do something they really don't want to do, the default response will be to react with disproportionate rage. On the other hand, if they are more aware of this emotion and how it affects them, they could be able to think differently and choose a different response. True, it is easy in theory and more difficult in practice, but as your awareness improves, it becomes more and more feasible.

3) Emotions can sometimes make people think they don't really have free will. When people are angry, sad, or even just hungry and bored, these emotions will end up impacting almost every aspect of their behavior. When you understand this, it may not always lead to you making better choices every time, but slowly and gradually, it can affect you and how you communicate with your environment.

The goal of this process is for people to be aware when they react to things automatically and without thinking it through, and when they can take the opportunity to step back and react with better awareness. Again, it is not easy, but emotions are an integral part of the human experience and so is the ability to rise above them.

4) In emotion-focused therapy, a therapist puts the patients' words and experiences in a perspective they may not have noticed themselves. People can do this, too, especially when faced with situations where they didn't react the way they wanted to. In these cases, looking back in hindsight, people can ask themselves how they felt in that situation, what caused those feelings, how did they react, why did they react that way, and what could they have done differently.

This process is easier to do with professional guidance, but it is certainly possible to do it alone, especially when people make a habit of it.

Many studies on emotional intelligence show that those who manage to follow these four principles can significantly improve relationships in their lives, but this requires everyone to understand that they aren't perfect, to recognize the mistakes they make, and to be ready to know how their emotions impact their reactions without their knowledge.