Elsa Punset, the writer who found in philosophy the keys to happiness: “Negative emotions make us less intelligent”
The graduate in Philosophy and Letters and writer of bestsellers was established as a reference author in the area of emotional and social intelligence in the Spanish-speaking world. Through the analysis of the legacies of the most notable ancient Greek and Chinese philosophers, the guru of happiness selected the best tools to achieve the long-awaited welfare state
Born in the city of London, but raised in Haiti, the United States and Madrid, perhaps the somewhat nomadic life of Elsa Punset has given her a character that allows her to put distance to the context, and to de-dramatize life.
Today she is considered a guru of happiness, a title that emerges from her restless career and career, and whose keys she found after a thorough search for the thoughts of ancient and contemporary philosophers from around the world.
She is the daughter of the famous Spanish writer, economist and scientific disseminator Eduard Punset. He studied Philosophy and Letters at the University of Oxford and has a master’s degree in Humanities, Journalism and Secondary Education. He also directs the Laboratory of Social and Emotional Learning, from which he promotes workshops and projects related to emotional intelligence for adults and children.
The books of his authorship include Radical Innocence, Compass for Emotional Navigators and A Backpack for the Universe. The latter became a best seller with more than 150,000 copies and 14 editions in Japan, Mexico, Italy, Turkey and Greece among others.
His areas of interest are focused on the application of emotional intelligence, decision making and learning processes in adults and children. Since 2015, he began the publication of a collection of illustrated stories, aimed at a child audience that helps children understand and control their emotions through their adventures.
A legacy of ancient Greek and Chinese philosophers
Through a legacy of ancient Greek and Chinese philosophers, poets and scientists, the writer brings in her tools with high doses of pragmatism, routines, gestures, intuitions, and clues to approach the ideal of happiness day by day.
“Philosophers understood philosophy as a way of life and wanted to find tools so that people could practice daily self – help, not only for themselves but also to relate to and get along with others” in his book Felices.
From the wisdom of the Stoics rescues the ability to remain calm and be reasonably happy in difficult situations and explains that a good part of human suffering is due to trying to exert control over the elements that can not be controlled such as work, economy and the future.
“Happiness is not a biological luxury, nor an egoism, nor a whim as has been thought, but it has a direct impact not only on emotional well-being and mental health but on physical health, memory, longevity, creativity, and the intellectual quotient, ” explained the writer in a dialogue.
A generation of multiple challenges
For Punset, the human being is presented with multiple opportunities today, but the speed in which he lives is a double-edged sword: although it allows access to information as never before, the lives of human beings are more unstable than ever. The human being finds himself in a daily war between opening himself to the world of information and not doing it to protect himself from the invasion of information.
“The work, the couple, the place where we live, all of this is inconstant and the human brain hates uncertainty, which is why it is a very exciting moment to live, but one that causes a lot of stress,” Punset said.
According to the happiness guru, it has been observed for decades that the speed with which increases the welfare or the ability to be happy, is not equivalent to the speed with which the material facilities offered by consumerism do.
In turn, if we talk about social networks, a medium of great impact in a society that has managed to transform the forms of communication, this phenomenon in which the human being is immersed has its positive and negative side. “You never get away from anything, everything is so close that it costs a lot to take distance and not be overwhelmed, ” he said.
Emotions are contagious like a virus
For the expert, social networks break the capacity of physical connection with the other. “Anonymity and remoteness allow people to attack and not feel affected by the other’s reaction, we are endowed with empathy and feel emotions physically, unless we are psychopaths,” he said.
Most people believe that changing jobs, country or environment will flee from toxic or negative people. The problem for Punset is that wherever they go they will be reunited because this is how humanity works, which is a great emotional ecosystem and there is “everything everywhere”.
“It is smarter to learn to manage those who harm you, to set limits, to learn to say no, not to carry the problems of others, to flee,” he said.
In his book, he proposes a small protocol to face the anger of the other, learn to manage and express the negative emotions of which we are inevitably surrounded.
The emotional kidnapping of anger
The anger is, after the fear, one of the main emotions of a brain programmed to survive. Although it has a very bad reputation, it is neither negative nor positive. Like the rest of the emotions, it is useful or harmful when defending something important; it is “the germ of social justice”. “Anger causes a very strong emotional reaction in the human brain to want to attack or flee, negative emotions make us less intelligent and less creative,” he explained.
Humans are a kind of chemical and electric volcano, which needs to express emotions and not repress them. “If they want to give themselves the luxury of living emotions one hundred percent have the responsibility to learn to manage them,” he said.
A brain programmed to survive: Teflon for the positive, velcro for the negative
The human brain is programmed to seek pleasure for survival, not pleasure itself, and, above all, enjoy food and sex.
Learning to give up something temporarily, although it is not necessary to do so, is the key to prove that you do not need it as much as you think and to fight against the habituation process of the human brain, that you get used to pleasant things and in the end you stop enjoying them as at first.
The Stoics were in favor of being unaccustomed to small pleasures and then returning to focus on the positive and enjoy it more: living in the present, not living in the crazy brain that is always in the past and in the future.
” Children, ” he explained, “have a brain that is much more prepared to enjoy the present because it is not physiologically developed, they smile an average of hundreds of times a day and adults average between 17 and 20 times a day.”
Small revolutions in the world in search of happiness
In Australia, the aboriginal walkabout tradition is about a journey of discovery. When adolescence arrives, the Australian aborigines must go through a hard and essential rite of passage that requires them to live alone in the desert for about six months. Lonely time allows them to find themselves.
In the United States, celebrating Thanksgiving every fourth Thursday in November is a tradition that goes back to the year 1620. Cultivating a grateful attitude towards life has multiple benefits: greater happiness, greater self-esteem, and better social relationships. Celebrating and training the capacity for gratitude expresses appreciation for what one has, rather than emphasizing what one does not.
In Thailand, the Loy Krathong festival teaches to let go of negative emotions, through a ritual where thousands of paper liners rise to the sky symbolizing an invitation to let go of worries, renunciation and overcoming all resentments, bad humor and weak points of each, in order to start a new life without them.
“When I speak of happiness, I do not say that life is easy, among the enormous losses that the human being faces, the first is the fear of his own life that ends.” We lose loved ones, opportunities, and jobs and what more it helps us to overcome it is the affection of others and even then we cannot avoid long duels and wounds, “warned Punset.
Very often the human being faces great losses and nevertheless what really causes him unhappiness in a sustained way is his way of managing the small negative emotions. “The great misfortunes cannot be avoided, they are uncontrollable and once they arrive we have a very powerful psychological immune system to face them”, he concluded.