How ya feeling? Well, what you’re feeling might be even more important than what you’re thinking, as your brain neurons dance a fiery dance during midterms. And the anxiety you feel now is but a prelude to finals week. Getting that 4.0 is important. That 4.0 is a measure of your intelligence, supposedly. But what it doesn’t measure is what you feel, and what you feel has significant bearing on what you think.
College work is brain-intensive, and it’s easy to forget about spheres of life other than your intellectual development. How smart you are might not be as important as who you are. Maybe you just broke up with a boyfriend or girlfriend. The guy sitting next to you in chemistry might have just lost his dog of 16 years. Even the professor might be having marital problems, or maybe the professor forgets that you are human first, student second.
Dr. Reuven Bar-On is a clinical psychologist, currently directing emotional intelligence research at the University of Haifa in Israel, and has been researching the area of emotional and social intelligence since 1980. His research is also cross-cultural, describing and assessing the emotional, personal and social components of intelligent behavior. He coined the term “EQ” (“emotional quotient”) in 1985 and developed the BarOn EQ-i test as a model of emotional and social intelligence. The BarOn EQ-i was published by Multi-Health Systems in 1996 as the first test of its kind.
Dr. Bar-On defines emotional intelligence as “capabilities, competencies and skills that influence one’s ability to succeed in coping with environmental demands and pressures and directly affect one’s overall psychological well-being.”
Recent research has shown that what is called emotional quotient may be more important than IQ or intelligence quotient. EQ could also be called character quotient since it measures qualities of character. People who have a high EQ seem to fare better in life, are more well-adjusted and are more successful in their careers.
In 1995 Daniel Goleman’s best seller, “Emotional Intelligence,” was published. A Time magazine article called, “The EQ Factor,” followed later that year and the concept of emotional intelligence went public. Emotions, not IQ, might be the true measure of human intelligence. Shortly before the article appeared, Peter Salovey, a Yale psychologist, and John Mayer, of the University of New Hampshire, coined the phrase emotional intelligence. “I think it’s really dangerous to argue that so much of our behavior is genetically determined and biologically controlled,” Meyers said.
Emotions have been neglected in a Western intellectual tradition that divorces body and mind, nature and culture, reason and emotion and public from private. The study of emotions challenges these dualities and challenges the very foundation of Western thought. The social and cultural construction of emotions is rigid and repressive, and ignores what people are feeling at school, at work and on a day-to-day basis.
In 1998, the National Institutes of Mental Health Office of Scientific Information held a symposium called “Discovering Our Selves: The Science of Emotion.” Fifteen of America’s preeminent brain scientists, mostly supported by the NIMH, presented their findings about emotion. “Never before has such a critical mass of expertise on emotion been assembled to spotlight progress in this emerging field,” said NIMH Director Steven E. Hyman, M.D., who co-chaired the symposium with Librarian of Congress James Billington, Ph.D.
“Not very long ago, emotion was thought to be the exclusive province of poets,” said Hyman. “Now, a new science of emotion is discovering pathways in our brains that create powerful emotional memories. Normally these protect us against repeating harmful encounters and guide us to what’s good. But science is just now beginning to understand how emotional memories can also become prisons when hijacked by anxiety or trauma.”
How you feel is a different way of being smart. It means recognizing what you feel, and “knowing” how to use your feelings as tools: making good decisions; managing relationships, motivating yourself, maintaining hope in the face of frustration, controlling anxiety, sharing empathy and compassion. People skills — how you get along with others — matter more in real life than how closely your IQ matches Einstein’s.
If I were a company, and was looking to hire a brilliant engineer, I’d care very much if I and other co-workers would like this person. If I were a parent, and knew that my son or daughter really cared about human rights, or the destruction of the environment, but came home with a C average, I’d be very proud and happy.
How you handle yourself in your personal life and in public is crucial to success. Unfortunately, the side effect of this is that if you are feeling less than happy, it’s looked down upon. Students, professors, family and friends need to allow each other to feel what they feel, even when it’s less than happy.
Assertive, outgoing and friendly people lead the way to a happier society. Knowing anger, jealousy and anxiety exist makes for a more real one.
Your emotional stability is crucial to how well you do on tests, how well you get along with others, and frees you to care about those who might not be feeling as good as you do. Feeling good does not mean being arrogant. Feeling good is not a competitive thing — it ought to be something you wish on others.
Having a realistic sense of your strengths and weaknesses will greatly help you in your pursuits, intellectual or otherwise. Your self-esteem, self-worth and the way you treat others is far more important than how many facts, figures and dates you can spout out on demand.
Someone with half your IQ could someday save your life. But it’s not just saving your life that compensates for low intelligence. This person could simply be your friend.
School is pressure, but life is much more so. There’s no shortage of intelligence, but there is a shortage of people who really care.
So take a breath, and be nice to yourself while you cram that intellectual fodder into your brain. “I think, therefore I am,” can easily be, “I feel, therefore I am.” You are more than the sum of your IQ and GPA. Relax. Be optimistic. Be nice. Care. Jerry Flattum is the opinions editor. His column appears every Friday.