By Chris Croll
Emotional intelligence is critically important for success in life. Research shows having a high “EQ” (emotional quotient) has a greater impact on a person’s happiness than does their IQ (intellectual quotient).
EQ includes many factors such as emotional self-awareness which is defined as, “recognizing, naming, and understanding the cause of one’s feelings.” EQ also relates to handling emotions appropriately and demonstrating productive options for managing stress. EQ also encompasses self-motivation,solving problems, impulse control, frustration tolerance and acceptance of delayed gratification to reach goals. Social intelligence, a component of EQ, includes empathy, the ability to recognizeand understand emotions in others, as well as basic social skills related to handling emotions in relationships.
If EQ is so important, how can we raise the EQ of people who inherently struggle to manage their emotions? Science indicates certain hobbies are better than others at helping children and adults increase their emotional maturity.
Music: Research shows a specific link between the ability to identify, understand, reason and manage emotions and being sensitive to emotions in music. Those with experience listening to and creating music on a regular basis demonstrate enhanced perception of emotions.
Art: Attending art museums and creating works of art can help manage stress but also teach empathy. Asking yourself, “What was the artist feeling when they created this work?” can help you develop the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Creating art is a way for non-artists to experiment and ‘safely fail’ which allows them to tap into new emotions. Painting, sculpting and other fine arts have been shown to release stress hormones.
Storytelling: The act of telling stories encourages emotional range. Storytellers can modulate their level of intensity and pacing by “reading” the room of listeners. Listening to stories told by others develops trust between the storyteller and the listener and trust is a key component to successful social relationships. Written storytelling and journaling encourage the writer to get in touch with their feelings.
Foreign Languages: The idea of learning a new language is about expressing yourself in a new way. Learning a foreign language also leads to greater cultural sensitivity. Listening to a foreign language encourages the gathering of non-explicit information and social cues to understand what someone is communicating. Learning a new language also encourages a “tolerance of ambiguity” which can help reduce social anxiety in general.
Yoga: Yoga opens the nervous system which allows the practitioner to access deeper parts of themselves, including emotional blockages. When yoga was introduced to 7,000 public school children through YES! Youth Empowerment Seminar, 76 percent of students reported significant improvements in mood, focus and increased frustration tolerance.
It’s never too late to improve your EQ. In addition to music, art, storytelling, languages and yoga, other hobbies like team sports also encourage empathy, social skills development, planning and emotional regulation. Children, too, can greatly benefit from exposure to these EQ-raising activities since a big part of childhood is developing and refining emotional skills.
Chris Croll is a parenting consultant specializing in educating and raising gifted and twice-exceptional children. She leads the National Center for Gifted Services and the nonprofit Loudoun County Parents of Gifted Students, and is a member of the Loudoun County School Board.