I learned a new idea called “emotional granularity.” I was listening to The Knowledge Project, a podcast by Shane Parrish of the Farnam Street Blog.
Lisa Feldman Barrett is the researcher behind the idea. Emotional granularity is when people describe their emotions with specificity. For example, rather than say a situation is good or bad, they might say it’s enlivening or deflating. They might say a certain person makes them feel exuberant and anxious at the same time. There’s a spectrum. They perceive things beyond the black and white.
I thought about the connection between emotional granularity and nonviolent communication (NVC).
NVC is a framework for having difficult conversations. There are four steps to this framework: observations, feelings, needs, and requests. You first observe what is not contributing to your well-being. Then, you acknowledge how you’re feeling: sad, mad, glad, or one of the adjectives in a sample list of feelings, which you can pluck from the different categories.
I came across NVC first. It resonated with me with its universal application in both personal and professional conversations. Now, I can see the logic behind acknowledging your feelings. By being specific, you break the good-bad dichotomy and actually get curious about what’s underneath.
Relatedly, I thought about whether emojis have made us more emotional granular. It’s common to use multiple emojis to inject feeling into a moment. You’re at a birthday party and you’re on a diet 🍰😕. We have formed the habit of accepting these little nuggets of feeling as a whole. Emoji plurality is an accepted (and certainly commodified) form of communication.
But I think to practice emotional granularity, we have to rely on more than just our habitual use of emojis. We have to actually pull up that feelings list, tape it somewhere, and learn to name our feelings with words we might not often use, like disenchanted, artistic, flumoxed, spirited, and cuddly.
Personally, this challenge makes me feel both intrigued and hesitant. I have two competing values: to practice self-compassion, as well as to regulate my impressions (from a Stoic perspective). I want to learn how to specify my feelings while not being too tethered to them.
I feel both receptive towards and inspired by this juxtaposition.