Emotional Granularity Mining.

October 13, 2023

Emotional Granularity Mining.

May 29, 2023

Meet Unicorn, a Diné Churro (four-horned sheep) traditionally cared for by native peoples in New Mexico.

In researching my book on men’s feelings I am having to do some pretty deep dives trying to understand how we create our feelings. One surprising idea shared by neuro psychologist Lisa Barrett at Northeastern University that I recently discovered is that having a higher ‘emotional granularity,’ the degree to which we have language to describe our emotions, increases the likelihood that our general health indicators will be better, as well as improving our overall emotional well-being. 

Barrett says that “higher emotional granularity has other benefits for a satisfying life. In a collection of scientific studies, people who could distinguish finely among their unpleasant feelings—those “fifty shades of feeling crappy”—were 30 percent more flexible when regulating their emotions, less likely to drink excessively when stressed, and less likely to retaliate aggressively against someone who has hurt them.”

She continues, “In contrast, lower emotional granularity is associated with all sorts of afflictions. People who have major depressive disorder, social anxiety disorder, eating disorders, autism spectrum disorders, borderline personality disorder, or who just experience more anxiety and depressed feelings all tend to exhibit lower granularity for negative emotion.” (source: “How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain” by Lisa Feldman Barrett).

In short, fine tuning our emotional language, getting granular with our feelings, improves our likelihood of being healthier and happier.

At the same time as I was reading Barrett’s book, I spent time with a local Dine teacher outside of Gallup, New Mexico, Dr. Lyla June Johnston (Dine is the word the Navajo tribe use to name themselves). Lyla, who will teach with us at MEA in Santa Fe next year, talks extensively on how traditional wisdom can be applied to a more regenerative land management vision. Her work is inspiring and fascinating but in spending time with her on her farm I learned that the more important lesson to me wasn’t about land management but in her syntax.  

The way Lyla spoke about the land, where mountains can be ancestors, how she spoke about her animals; where a sheep is a child was at first strange and then fascinating to me. 

Lyla offered an emotional granularity for the earth that I had never considered. 

It struck me that at MEA one of the key services we provide is as ‘emotional miners.’ We mine for granular words and ideas to help describe the movements and changes we experience in life. We offer those words and ideas as a service, to give people tools to describe themselves and their experiences. I see it happen all the time in sessions as people use the words we share to describe what is going on with them. 

Whether these tools come to us from a neuroscientist or a Dine wisdom keeper, every new word we learn to describe our experience, our emotions, all give us access to the subtleties of how we feel. New words and fresh concepts help us metabolize ourselves and keep us emotionally and physically healthy. New emotions can also shift our relationship to the world itself.  

How wonderful. Maybe we should all build a wisdom lexicon and mine words together for the future…

Jeff Hamaoui is a co-founder of MEA and Regen Communities and an entrepreneur, sage, wit, and poet.

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