Emotions are something that follow us our whole lives. We are emotional beings and we regularly express these emotions as we make our way through each day. The ability to express and control emotions is something medical experts call “emotional intelligence.” Emotional intelligence means you have an ability to understand, interpret, and respond to other people’s emotions.
You use emotional intelligence all the time when you gage a friend’s mood or respond with compassion to someone’s suffering. In some ways, emotional intelligence may be even more important than intellectual intelligence.
To rate high on the scale of emotional intelligence, you need to be able to perceive emotions in others. You have to get good at understanding nonverbal signals such as facial expressions and body language. You also have to become good at using emotions as a springboard for thinking. Emotions can dictate what you choose to pay attention to and how you spend your time.
Understanding emotions is another key factor in determining emotional intelligence. Emotions can express a variety of meanings. When someone is angry, they might be mad for many different reasons. Understanding where emotions come from can help you better understand other people.
The last key element of emotional intelligence is managing emotions: yours and those of the people around you. You need to respond appropriately with your own emotions and also when faced with other people’s emotional responses.
Emotional intelligence can play a big role in how you feel as you age. Researchers from Berkley University have recently discovered that emotional intelligence and cognitive skills can increase when a person reaches their 60s, giving many seniors an advantage when it comes to negotiating relationships. From personal relationships with friends and family to relationships with health-care providers, emotional intelligence is key for making the most out of life. The whole experience of a 60 or 70 year-old is very much about social relationships: caring for and being cared for by others, according to the Berkley research team.
They conducted a study analyzing how 144 healthy adults in their 20s, 40s, and 60s reacted to neutral, sad, and disgusting film clips. It turns out that the seniors were much better at giving negative scenes a more positive spin than the younger participants. Life experience, combined with many lessons learned along the way, all helped to increase the older participant’s ability to make these images less distressing or disturbing.
How does all of this relate to being a healthier senior? Use your superior emotional intelligence to stay socially engaged with people. Use your life experience and try to view stressful situations in a positive light. This emotional ability will carry you to the other side of many of the ups and downs that come with being older and will ultimately enhance the quality of your life.
Make sure you take the time to care for others and to allow others to care for you. Keeping an emotional distance will likely not help you find enjoyment or comfort in the latter part of your life.
Anwar, Y., “Emotional intelligence peaks as we enter our 60s, research suggests,” UC Berkeley News Center web site, Dec. 16, 2010; http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2010/12/16/agingemotion/, last accessed Nov. 29, 2013.
Sze, J.A., et al., “Greater emotional empathy and prosocial behavior in late life,” Emotion. October 2012; 12(5): 1,129-40.