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Chapter Six - EQ and Happiness
If you're so smart, why aren't you happy?
In my opinion, the greatest value of the emotional intelligence work is its contribution to our understanding of happiness, both on an individual and a group level. In fact, the very survival of a society depends upon the precarious balance between meeting the needs of the individual versus the group. When the needs of both are met, everyone is happy and the society flourishes. The greater the happiness for the greater number of people, the more successful the society. This is similar to the philosophy of the greatest good for the greatest number, but it is more precise since "good" is such a subjective word. Happiness, however, may be easily recognized by an abundance of positive feelings and an absence of negative feelings.
Let's see how EQ can help us in our pursuit of happiness on both the individual and group level.
Our Common Needs
A good starting place is to consider our universal human needs, those which define us as a species and unite us around the world. These may be roughly separated into our physical needs and our emotional needs. Our physical needs are what we commonly think of as our survival needs: food, shelter, air, etc. Our emotional needs might also be called our happiness needs. These happiness needs include the need for all of the following:
Control of our lives
Because our need for acceptance is one of our most critical emotional needs, it is useful to take a closer look at just what acceptance really means from a pragmatic standpoint. The following "Ladder of Acceptance" helps us better understand the general issue of acceptance in terms of its more specific ingredients. It also shows us clearly that there are different levels of acceptance.
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Each step of the ladder represents an emotional need which must be filled sometime during our lives if we are to reach maximum happiness. The sooner these needs are filled, the more time we can devote to other pursuits. As children we depend on our parents to fill these needs, but as adults we must take responsibility for our own acceptance needs. The better job our parents did, the easier our task is as adults. For example, if we felt loved and respected as children it is much easier for us to feel loved and respected as adults. Ultimately, though, as adults, we must each earn our way up the ladder. For example, we must earn respect through our actions and integrity; we must express ourselves to be understood; we must behave in ways which are worthy of admiration and appreciation; we must be deserving of compassion; and we must have something to offer if we are to be valued.
In a similar way, for adults, even love must be earned. Ideally, we were loved unconditionally as children, without needing to earn our parents' love. Such unconditional love goes a long way to helping a person feel lovable, and thus making it easier to believe that they are worthy of love as an adult. In practice, however, most of us had to earn the approval, and thus the love, of our parents. Those that never felt approved of by their parents will have a very difficult time feeling loved as adults. The reason it will be difficult is because we must believe we are loveable to receive love. If we do not believe we are lovable, we will be skeptical of love when it is offered to us. We may even reject it based on our cognitive and emotional distortions as discussed previously. All our feelings of acceptance, in other words the essential forerunners of love, hinge upon our self-esteem and feelings about ourselves. Simply put, if we do not respect, value, admire, support, understand, approve of, value, and love ourselves, it will be impossible to genuinely feel loved, valued, admired, respected, supported, understood, and approved of by others.
When people do not love, value, admire, or fully approve of themselves, in other words, when they do not fully accept themselves, they are haunted by a host of negative feelings. They feel disappointed with themselves, rejected, unsupported, and unloved. Because they remain stuck trying to be accepted by others, they cannot devote their energies to their other emotional needs. As a result they are left empty and unfulfilled. On a large scale, this explains much of the unhappiness in the developed countries of the world, where the prime problem is not physical need, but emotional starvation.
While our survival needs vary only minimally from one human to another, our happiness needs vary tremendously. It is not in type that they differ, however, for we all share the same type of needs--rather, it is in degree. For example, I may need less security and more freedom than you to be happy, but we both need some freedom and some security. Some of the reasons our needs differ so much in degree include:
1. Our innate temperaments and sensitivities differ. In other words, we are not all created equal when it comes to our genetic EQ.
2. Our parents' ability to fill our needs as children differs tremendously. Some parents do an admirable job, others a horrendous one.
3. Our teachers, religious leaders, relatives, etc. differed greatly in their treatment of our needs.
4. Our life experiences differ tremendously.
So, how do we know what our unique needs are? How do we know the depths of our various individual needs? How do we know the degree to which they are met or unmet? The answer is, of course, our feelings. Our feelings are the key to figuring out the relative intensity of each of our happiness needs. Very simply put, when a need is unmet, we are unhappy. The more it is unmet, the more unhappy we are. Likewise, the more it is met, the happier we are. Therefore:
Our individual happiness can be precisely gauged by measuring the extent to which each of our happiness needs is met. We need only listen attentively to the messages in our feelings to find the path to increased happiness.
Being emotionally smart means knowing what makes you happy and knowing how to achieve it. To be particularly smart is to know how to achieve maximum long-term happiness with minimum wasted effort and with minimum harm. I call this "happiness efficiency."
Our emotions provide the feedback to move us from unhappiness towards happiness. They do this by telling us what our needs are, when they are being met, and when they aren't.
Each society has certain needs including the need for cooperation, for exchange, for organization, for protection, for selecting leaders, and for a system of conflict resolution. Society is more able to focus on these needs when individual citizens take personal responsibility for meeting their own basic survival and happiness needs. This is because responsible individuals are more self-reliant, and thus place fewer demands on others.
Additionally, when the individuals in a society have taken care of their own needs, they have more time, energy, and desire to address social needs. When they feel their short-term security and happiness needs are filled, they begin to address longer-term issues. (The emphasis here is on the feeling, since that is what motivates us. For example, it is quite possible for someone to have more wealth than they could possibly spend, yet still feel insecure.) Fulfilled people begin to see the "big picture." Abraham Maslow referred to this as transcending even self-actualization, the peak of his famous needs hierarchy. This is similar to enlightened self-interest, since we all need a stable, free, and peaceful society in order for us, our children, and grandchildren to survive and thrive.
(I have moved this section to the bottom of the chapter because it was based too much on the person who was president at of the USA at the time I wrote the book.)
Social Values and Beliefs
The values and beliefs of a society affect group happiness just as they affect individual happiness. For example, if a society values freedom, it will allow its citizens freedom. If it values conformity, it will restrict freedom. Whatever it values, it will both invest in and reward. If it values education, it will reward those who teach. If it values entertainment, it will reward those who entertain. If it values competition and winning it will reward those who win, regardless of the means employed. If it values productivity, it will invest in that which increases productivity. If it values children it will protect them and educate them. If it values math, chemistry, and computer science, those will be required subjects in school. If it values parenting, child rearing, emotional intelligence, and self-esteem development, they too will be required subjects.
It has been said that the most dangerous beliefs are those which are most widely held, most taken for granted, and therefore, least questioned. If an entire society believes that its form of government is the best possible, its citizens will not investigate alternatives. If an entire society believes in supernatural beings, or anything which is illusory, the citizens may look to those illusions for solutions to their problems. Since over the long-term, false illusions do not solve real problems, the problems worsen as the society simply does more of whatever has already failed. Similarly, many insecure people, when faced with problems, only cling ever more tightly to their beliefs, as if they were life jackets in a turbulent ocean.
Throughout history, the beliefs of certain groups have led to tremendous unhappiness. For example, consider the religious and "holy" wars which have resulted in hundreds of millions of deaths. Certain cultural and religious beliefs teach that either suicide (as in the case of terrorists) or constant prayer or meditation (as is found in certain Eastern religions) is the path to happiness. In both cases, it seems clear that these are inefficient producers of happiness when compared to the many other options available to modern man. On the other hand, much of the modern western world seems to mistakenly believe that the accumulation of wealth, power, fame, or status leads to happiness. Needless to say, some reflection, some meditation, some accumulation of wealth and some loyalty to a cause are all virtues. The issue, then, seems to be one of balance, a major principle of emotional intelligence. The Greek philosophers realized this when they said that even virtues can become vices when practiced in excess.
Needs vs. Rights
One of the problems in democratic societies is the confusion between needs and rights. Thinking about our emotional needs helps us distinguish one from the other.
My thoughts on needs and rights has changed since I wrote the original version of this book. For one thing, in my work with teenagers I have seen that they have many social and emotional needs which are not being met. To take one example, teenagers, like all of us, have a need for friendships. But do they have a right to friendships? I have come to the sad conclusion that they do not. Their parents can stop them from spending time with their friends, from talking to or seeing their friends. Parents can take away their phones, their Internet. To a suicidal teen this is especially inhumane, but unfortunately it is legal in all the countries I am familiar with.
This is also true with love. Does a teenager need to feel loved or even cared about? I believe so. But do they have a legal right to love or to feel cared about? Or to feel understood or accepted? The reality in most countries I have seen is, no. Whether they are allowed to meet their natural social and emotional needs depends mostly on the parents. Some teens are fortunate. Others are not.
Another way my thoughts have changed is about the rights of the minority and majority. My original writing was influenced heavily by a problem I saw with how the concept of rights was being misused. Here is the original writing.
From what I have learned from teenagers around the world, I see that one problem for them is that their needs change from childhood to adolescence. For example, they have more need for freedom, romantic love and privacy. Yet their legal rights typically remain the same as when they were 5 years old.
Also, teenagers are not free to make necessary changes in their lives in the same way adults are, so the discussion of their needs and their rights is a much different one. An adult can take more responsibility for meeting their own needs because an adult is legally free to do many things a teenager cannot, such as moving away from an emotionally unhealthy environment.
Individual EQ and Society
Generally speaking, people with high EQ make good citizens of the world. Simply put, the well-balanced, responsible, self-reliant person is a good neighbor. Here are a few reasons we are good citizens and neighbors when, as adults who are free to make our own decisions, we have a healthy development of our emotional intelligence
- We are aware of our own feelings and needs, and we take responsibility for meeting them without being dependent on others.
- We are compassionate and empathetic which causes us to feel a sense of commonality with our neighbors.
- We have a healthy sense of guilt to prevent us from hurting or wronging others.
- We feel in control of our own lives, and therefore do not feel victimized.
- We seek fulfilment through earning things by our own efforts, and therefore we do not allow ourselves to feel falsely entitled to things we have not earned. This keeps us from making demands on others to fill our needs.
- We do not confuse needs with rights, since we are aware of both our own needs and the needs of others.
- We set limits on our responsibility to others so we do not feel responsible for other people's happiness, and thereby fall into the bottomless pit of trying to fill their unmet needs.
- We are secure in our beliefs. Therefore, we do not feel the need to convert others to our way of thinking in order for us to feel reassured that we are right, or that our way is the best way.
Generally speaking, individual society members, authority figures, policy makers, religious leaders, and even family members are quick to fear, judge, and criticize anything which is different. The result is that the same individuals who have the most potential to help society, are often most rejected by it. For example, the intelligent, far sighted, and creative person who questions everything and searches for the truth is often rejected and invalidated before he is ever understood or given a chance.
Because we all desire acceptance and fear rejection, it is the rare person, who can question or cast aside his society's values and beliefs, and still remain happy. Such non-conformity requires tremendous inner strength, confidence, and self-esteem. These are exactly the qualities which most large societies are unlikely to foster in their youth, since the larger the society, the more the need for conformity and control. As a result, whole societies remain relatively stagnant across generations, even in the face of mass unhappiness and life threatening problems.
When an individual does not share the society's values and beliefs, yet does not have the confidence to reject them, he lives life in inner turmoil. On the other hand, when he has high EQ, along with high self-esteem, he is more likely to both recognize the source of his negative feelings, and to have the confidence to take the corrective actions which increase his long-term happiness. The person with high EQ will set his own standards by closely examining his values and beliefs. He will then live his life according to his own standards, rather than according to society's. The more his society truly values individual freedom, and respects individual needs and feelings, the easier this will be. Finally, the higher the individual's EQ, the more he assumes responsibility for his own happiness, and the less he needs from the state.
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Section on Leadership from 1996
All societies need leaders. In democratic societies, these leaders are elected by a simple process, one which is often called, quite appropriately, a popularity contest. The types of leaders which are elected depend upon the type of individuals who are voting. If the voters feel needy and insecure because of either unmet emotional needs or unmet physical needs, their feelings will distort their perception of reality. They will be obsessed with instant gratification and they will lose sight of the long term consequences of their actions. If they are not taking responsibility for their own lives and their own happiness, they will look outside themselves for answers to their problems. The end result of all this is voters who will believe even the most blatant lies, and the most unrealistic promises.
To get elected then, a potential leader need only tell the people what they want to hear. This process encourages the selection of insecure leaders for the following reason:
The candidate who is most approval-seeking, and most power-hungry, i.e. the most insecure, will be the most likely to mislead the public, and thus the most likely to get elected.
The long term effect of this is that countries will elect insecure leaders. Such leaders will also lack integrity since integrity and insecurity are mutually exclusive. They are mutually exclusive because when one feels insecure, one feels constantly threatened, as if fighting for survival. And in the battle of survival, one does whatever necessary, and integrity is the first casualty.
Insecure leaders focus on filling their own needs and on generating "quick-fixes." They use the people who have elected them to feel powerful and approved of. The greater the social problems, the more such leaders will address short-term solutions at the expense of long-term societal happiness. Such behavior is both counter-productive and highly inefficient from the perspective of overall happiness. An extreme example of such inefficient behavior is the leader who sends his nation into battle in order to either (a) Distract the people's attention, or (b) Steal what the nation cannot produce on its own. They may also create internal battles (for example, the "war on drugs," "war on poverty," "war against teenage smoking"). The majority of battles, whether literal or figurative, are the result of extreme unhappiness. This unhappiness, an unmistakable sign of low EQ, may be on the part of the leader, the voters, or both.
1996 Writing on Rights
Thinking about our emotional needs helps us distinguish one from the other. For example, I have a need for sex and intimacy. But few would claim that I have a right to either of these. I also have a need to protect myself. Yet in certain countries I have the "right" to own deadly weapons, while in others I do not. The situation becomes even more complicated when we consider our desires as opposed to our needs. For example, I may desire a certain standard of living, but I do not have a right to any lifestyle I choose--instead I must earn it. So who decides what is a "right," as opposed to a need or a desire?
A need or a desire becomes a "right" only when one group of people decide that it is a right. In democracies, the majority rules, at least theoretically. If, for example, the majority rules that they have a "right" to something, they can literally force others to give it to them. They simply elect leaders who pass laws accordingly. .
There are at least two problems with this process of transferring a need to a right:
1. The concept of responsibility is compromised.
2. The needs of the minority are neglected in favor of the needs of the majority.
Responsibility is compromised because once something becomes a "right," one no longer has to do anything further to earn it. When a person believes he has a right to something, he feels entitled to it. If he does not receive this entitlement, he believes he has been wronged, cheated, victimized, deprived, and treated unfairly. In most cases, he tends to place blame on the person or group which he believes is responsible for depriving him of his "rights." Logically, he then focuses his energy on asserting his "rights." He does this by making demands and by trying to coerce, manipulate or in some way change the person or persons he holds responsible for his unhappiness.
Since changing others is difficult, if not impossible, he sets himself up to feel frustrated, defeated, controlled, dependent, victimized, and powerless. All of these are direct opposites of the positive feelings needed for happiness. They are all also the opposite of that required for high self-esteem and self-reliance. When a low EQ person feels such negative feelings, he does not know how to soothe himself. Over time, he may feel resentful, bitter, jealous, envious, hopeless, despondent, or depressed. (This brings to mind Freud's definition of depression as "anger turned inward.") Or the "victim" may take out his negative feelings and frustrations on others, either those close to him or total strangers. He may also look for other ways to fulfill his need to feel powerful and in control. In the extreme case, he may turn to rage, random violence, and destruction. In the long run, all of this is not only anti-social, but self-destructive.
The second problem mentioned above is the neglect of the minority's needs. Again, this is particularly relevant to those who are both more intelligent and more sensitive, since they are, by definition, in the minority. In the long run, the social conventions, the laws, the values, the beliefs, and the definition of "rights" will all reflect the majority's needs and desires. To those in the minority, all of this has the potential to cause feelings of being left out, isolated, misunderstood, unsupported, rejected, etc.
The result of these problems is that there will be an increase in irresponsible behavior and a compounding of the natural tendency for groups to subdivide. This subdivision causes them to insulate and isolate themselves. The more the groups separate, the more they misunderstand, fear, resent, and compete with one another. As long as resources are plentiful, this may be a tolerable situation, but if resources become scarce, or even if they are perceived to be scarce, the competition becomes intense and ultimately leads to violence and warfare. What is needed, then, is something to reunite the groups by emphasizing their commonalities. This is where a thorough understanding of our universal human emotional needs, as offered by EQ theory, is many times more helpful than relying on arbitrary declarations of "rights."