Becoming wealthy is a universal human desire. But what is wealth? What is real wealth?

The word wealth derives from well or weal. Both forms of the old English word are synonymous with wellness. Nowadays, wealth refers to a more narrow concept, typically centered around finances. But is this real wealth?

There is no doubt that below a certain level of wealth or income, people suffer. We need food, shelter, clothing, medical care, etc. We suffer without an adequate level of income to meet our basic needs and to allow us to freely participate in the activities that meet those needs. Below this level, more money means more happiness, or at least, less unhappiness.

We should, then, put our energy into making as much money as possible, right?

Some people may agree unconditionally. However, I think most of us would agree that spending every moment of our lives making money and growing wealth isn't the best course of action. 

What really matters is not what we would say to a hypothetical question, but what we do. Most of the population lives as if there's no such thing as too much money.

Is there such a thing? Have I gone completely off the deep end here?

Let's first talk about the advantages of financial and material wealth. Then we'll talk about the other, non-financial aspects of wealth. After that, we'll discuss the downsides of the relentless pursuit of financial wealth or security. Finally, we'll talk about how we can weigh matters to make the best decisions.

Advantages of material wealth

  • Security
  • Power
  • Higher status
  • Ease
  • Greater control
  • More influence
  • Ability to enjoy richer experiences
  • More stuff!
  • Lack of dependence on others
  • The ability to signal strength to others

No doubt you can think of many more.

Non-financial wealth

Money can't buy happiness.  What are some other things money can't buy?

Here's Nassim Taleb's list, from his book Antifragile:

  • Worry-free sleep
  • A clear conscience
  • Reciprocal gratitude
  • The absence of envy
  • A good appetite
  • Muscle strength
  • Physical energy
  • Frequent laughs
  • Not eating meals alone
  • Some physical labor (or hobby)
  • Good bowel movements
  • No meeting rooms
  • Periodic surprises

Would you give up any of these things in exchange for a certain amount of money? 

Think about each item on this list and determine what someone would have to pay you in order to completely remove it from your life.  If one or more items are already missing, how much would you be willing to pay to have them back?

Take another minute and think about this:  What have you recently spent money on?  What are you considering spending money on?

Now, ask yourself why you bought that recent item or are considering that future purchase.

  • Is it solving a problem?
  • Are you buying it to improve your life?
  • Is it something you've never owned before or a newer version of something you've already owned?
  • How did you become aware of the option to buy this item?
    • Advertising?
    • Learned about it from a friend or coworker?

Then ask yourself, Did I do a personal values inventory before making this purchase?  How many of my core values was this purchase in line with?  If the purchase was costly, this question becomes more relevant.

Being able to afford what you want is good, but understanding what you want is better.  One way to achieve true wealth is to make decisions that are in harmony with our values, whether they involve money or not.

True wealth contributes not only to our own well-being, but also to the well-being of others.

According to Harry C. Triandis, pioneer of cross-cultural psychology, there are four “universal truths,” criteria that people globally believe to be valuable and important: mental and physical health, subjective well-being, longevity, and preservation of the natural environment.Reference to his book Fooling Ourselves: Self-Deception in Politics, Religion, and Terrorism in L. Walls, J. and C. Triandis, H. (2014), "Universal truths: can universally held cultural values inform the modern corporation?", Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 345-356. Surely any objective measure of wealth will take these factors into account.

Throughout their lives, close relationships keep people happy, according to the longest-running longitudinal study ever conducted.  Interestingly enough, those in the best relationships over their lifetimes also tended to be the wealthiest financially. 

A person who has true wealth will have fewer end-of-life regrets.

Disadvantages of material wealth

In spite of wealth's obvious advantages, it also has a number of fairly obvious downsides.  There are also some less-obvious drawbacks.

Pursuing wealth can lead to:

  • Neglecting family
  • Neglecting friends
  • Neglecting one's own health
  • Excessive stress
  • Viewing others, including friends, as a source of competition

What are some of the hidden drawbacks?

You now have more to lose. People fear losing more than they fear not gaining.  As a way to avoid the fear of going without, you started pursuing wealth, but now you are even more afraid of losing what you own.

A wealthier person has more opportunities.  The complexity of their life also increases. Every increase in wealth opens up new possible future selves. It's like opening Pandora's box. Having imagined yourself in a role, you will always feel poor if you cannot achieve it.

Does money change people? Research has shown that wealth and power correlate with certain undesirable qualities.

Higher social class individuals tend to be less ethical. They are more likely to steal, lie, and cheat.Piff, P. K., Stancato, D. M., Cote, S., Mendoza-Denton, R., & Keltner, D. (2012). Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(11), 4086–4091.

Power increases one's psychological distance from others.Smith, P. K., & Trope, Y. (2006). You focus on the forest when you're in charge of the trees: Power priming and abstract information processing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(4), 578–596.

People with more power have a reduced tendency to understand how others see, think, and feel.Galinksy, A. D., Magee, J. C., Inesi, M. E., & Gruenfeld, D. H. (2006). Power and perspectives not taken. Psychological Science, 17(12), 1068–1074.

Power can lead to a false sense of control.Fast, N. J., Gruenfeld, D. H., Sivanathan, N., & Galinsky, A. D. (2009). Illusory control: A generative force behind power's far-reaching effects. Psychological Science, 20(4), 502–508.

Four studies found lower-class individuals to be more generous, charitable, trusting, and helpful than their upper-class counterparts.Piff, P. K., Kraus, M. W., Côté, S., Cheng, B. H., & Keltner, D. (2010). Having less, giving more: The influence of social class on prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(5), 771–784.

Among the factors promoting "wise reasoning" are intellectual humility, recognition that the world is constantly changing, and the capacity to take into account contexts other than one's own.  According to studies, wealth and power can impede those capacities.Brienza, J. P., & Grossmann, I. (2017). Social class and wise reasoning about interpersonal conflicts across regions, persons and situations. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 284(1869), 20171870.

Also, many people who pursue wealth their entire lives end up realizing that their lives have no real purpose.

How about charitable giving? The more wealth you have, the more you can help others, right?

There are many people who praise billionaires who hoard wealth for their entire lives so they can 'philanthropically' give it away after they die.  But do rich people really give more?  What does the evidence show?

A survey of consumer expenditures by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that, in 2007, the poorest fifth of American households contributed an average of 4.3 percent of their income to charitable organizations, while the richest fifth contributed 2.1 percent.

The Atlantic Monthly reported that in 2011, those in the top 20 percent of income contributed on average 1.3 percent of it to charity. In comparison, Americans at the bottom of the income pyramid -- those in the bottom 20 percent -- donated 3.2 percent of their income.

One British report analyzed the donations of more than 1,000 donors to 10 British charities, finding that people with modest incomes donate almost 5% to charity, but those with incomes over £40,000 donate just over 2%.

What other problems does an emphasis on acquiring wealth cause?

The ego constantly compares itself to others. It has us measuring our self-worth against the looks, wealth, and social status of others. Giving in to the ego is not a good way to stay in control.

Money can't buy happiness, but materialism predicts a lack of happiness and satisfaction, according to Madeline Levine in The Price of Privilege. She continues:

It keeps us wedded to external measures of accomplishment for a sense of self— prestige, power, money for adults; grades, clothes, electronics for kids.

Beginning in the 1990s, a majority of students say that “making a lot of money” has become the most important reason to go to college, outranking both the reasons above, as well as “becoming an authority in my field,” or “helping others in difficulty.” This shift in values among college students takes place at the same time that rates of depression, suicide, and other psychological problems have risen dramatically among this group.

Materialistic kids have lower grades and higher rates of both depression and substance abuse than nonmaterialistic kids.

In 1976 Jane Fonda told a news reporter, "There’s a psychiatrist that goes with every swimming pool out here, not to mention divorces and children who hate their parents."The San Francisco Examiner from San Francisco, California on December 31, 1976 · p. 16

According to a 2020 literature review, societal emphasis on wealth can even negatively affect healthy eating habits among adolescents. The study observed that non-traditional diets of pies, soft drinks, and other junk food was perceived as a sign of wealth and fitting in with peers.Ragelienė, T., & Grønhøj, A. (2020). The influence of peers′ and siblings′ on children’s and adolescents′ healthy eating behavior. A systematic literature review. Appetite, 148, 104592.

Alan Weiss, in Million Dollar Consulting: The Professional's Guide to Growing a Practice, observed, "Too many people are racing around generating money while eroding their wealth. They are making money but losing time."

Nassim Taleb took note of the differences between people in cold weather and hot weather countries.  He mused:

The fact that people in countries with cold weather tend to be harder working, richer, less relaxed, less amicable, less tolerant of idleness, more (over) organized and more harried than those in hotter climates should make us wonder whether wealth is mere indemnification, and motivation is just overcompensation for not having a real life.The Bed of Procrustes

How to balance pursuing financial and non-financial wealth

If any of the above made you question whether the relentless pursuit of wealth is in your best interests (and those around you), what can you do?

First, reevaluate your priorities.  Beyond necessities, why are money and wealth important to you? Take another look at the list of advantages at the top of the article. With the knowledge that each upside has a corresponding downside, which of these are you now less likely to consider essential? Are there any currencies other than money that could provide you with these benefits?

Is your ego driving you to seek wealth and social status? Consider ways that you can put ego in its place.

Think about prioritizing your mental and physical health, subjective well-being, longevity, and preservation of the natural environment. 

Make sure you prioritize social relationships.

Curate your inputs

We are influenced by those around us, as well as what we read and listen to.  If your friends are focused on becoming wealthy at all costs, you will have trouble seeing things differently. Even the music we listen to can subtly affect us. A study of song themes among top-40 songs in the U.S. observed that references to lifestyle issues such as wealth and status increased substantially, particularly in the 2000s.Christenson, P. G., de Haan-Rietdijk, S., Roberts, D. F., & ter Bogt, T. F. M. (2018). What has America been singing about? Trends in themes in the U.S. top-40 songs: 1960–2010. Psychology of Music, 47(2), 194–212. 

Stop playing the game

We often feel that we don't measure up because our income or net worth aren't as high as others.  But in the grand scheme of things, these numbers are the equivalent of monopoly money. Ultimately, what matters most is how we will view our lives in the future.  In this regard, we can refer to the advice of hundreds of people who were interviewed near the end of their lives.  Not one of them wished they had spent more time working and earning more money.

Ancient wisdom

Ultimately, getting a handle on our desire for more wealth comes down to ego strength. Stoic philosopher Seneca may have never heard of "ego strength," but his words indicate an understanding of the concept:

We are attracted by wealth, pleasures, good looks, political advancement and various other welcoming and enticing prospects: we are repelled by exertion, death, pain, disgrace and limited means. It follows that we need to train ourselves not to crave for the former and not to be afraid of the latter.

What is the proper limit to a person’s wealth? First, having what is essential, and second, having what is enough.

A man asked Epictetus, another Stoic philosopher, "What man is rich?"

His answer:

He who is content (who has enough).

It is my hope that this article has convinced you that contentment is the shortest and most satisfying path to wealth.

How to master anger instead of letting it control you

A quick search for anger management books turned up two lists of the top 100.  That alone convinces me that there are plenty of books on this topic.  Many people struggle with this problem.

This article will discuss answers to the following questions:  What is anger?  Why are some people more prone to anger than others? How does anger develop?  And how can you and I learn to control our anger?

What is anger?

As with the definition of emotions in general, there is no single definition of anger.  It is usually described as a feeling of strong displeasure.  That doesn't really capture it very well, though, does it?

Other elements of anger include:

  • A feeling of urgency in which something needs to be set right.
  • The feeling that an important rule has been broken.
  • An urge to react.
  • Directed energy that builds up (often suddenly).

What is the process that leads to anger?

Anger is clearly preceded by a trigger or condition of some kind.  But what other factors are involved?

At least four factors determine whether a trigger will lead to anger:

  • Qualities
  • Appraisal
  • Beliefs
  • Habitual responses

Let's examine each one individually.


A person's disposition toward anger is determined by both their personality characteristics and by other factors such as their level of physical or emotional stress.

Qualities that predispose a person to anger include:

  • Pride
  • Self-importance
  • Narcissism
  • Competitiveness
  • Low tolerance for frustration
  • Impatience

Naturally, the opposite qualities will reduce a person's tendency to anger easily:

  • Humility
  • Concern for others
  • Cooperative spirit
  • Resilience
  • Patience


Suppose you greet your coworker when you enter the office.  They respond rudely.  How would you feel?  Would you feel the same if you knew they had lost a family member the day before?  If you have the desirable qualities listed above, this knowledge would temper your view of the "injustice."  The trigger is still there, but instead of feeling angry, you realize they are having a bad day and need your compassion.

Kevin N. Ochsner, the principal investigator on a study of the neural mechanisms involved in emotion control, explains, “Our emotional responses ultimately flow out of our appraisals of the world, and if we can shift those appraisals, we shift our emotional responses.”These findings support the hypothesis that prefrontal cortex is involved in constructing reappraisal strategies that can modulate activity in multiple emotion-processing systems. Ochsner, K. N., Bunge, S. A., Gross, J. J., & Gabrieli, J. D. E. (2002). Rethinking Feelings: An fMRI Study of the Cognitive Regulation of Emotion. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14(8), 1215–1229. 

The prefrontal cortex of the brain is where complex thought happens, while the amygdala handles strong emotions.  If the amygdala detects a threat, it overtakes the prefrontal cortex, triggering a fight or flight response.  But reappraisal can prevent this from happening, according to the Handbook of Emotion Regulation by James Gross.

Anger and status

Anger is a status-based emotion.  A low-status person will rarely display anger because it is likely to be counterproductive.  In Emotion Review, Jonathan H. Turner wrote,

If a person is at the same rank or at a higher rank than the other(s) with whom a disagreement arises, then this person will display mild annoyance and anger at the other.

When a disagreement between a higher- and lower-status person arises, the fault is presumed by expectation states to reside with the lower-status person, and this attribution is typically backed up by fellow lower-status persons, thus legitimating the anger and annoyance of the higher-status person.Turner, J. H. (2009). The Sociology of Emotions: Basic Theoretical Arguments. Emotion Review, 1(4), 340–354. 

Our feelings of anger often arise when someone assumes a higher level of status than we think they deserve.  This is one reason criticism can be difficult to take.  Giving evaluative feedback implies acting as a judge, a position of higher status.  

Anger and self-concept

We may also experience unpleasant emotions when our self-conception is challenged. An undesirable future self role may be introduced, along with associated fears and anxieties.Markus, H., & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist, 41(9), 954–969. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.41.9.954

Anger and rejection

When we feel rejected, we may react emotionally in ways we do not expect. 

"Most researchers and theorists in the area of ostracism, social exclusion, and rejection acknowledge that these related aversive interpersonal behaviors threaten a fundamental need to belong," state the authors of a 2005 paper. "We believe that a threat to belonging, even to strangers, evokes a strong immediate warning."Williams, K. D., & Zadro, L. (2005). Ostracism: The indiscriminate early detection system. In K. D. Williams, J. P. Forgas, & W. von Hippel (Eds.), The social outcast: Ostracism, social exclusion, rejection, and bullying (pp. 19 –34). New York: Psychology Press.

Our emotional responses serve a protective purpose, according to such theorists.  We are very sensitive to signs that others are developing a negative view of us, giving the impression they will withdraw their support.

According to another source, criticizing implies that an individual doesn't value the relationship with their target because people often refrain from strongly criticizing those they care about. They add:

Neither sadness nor anger is caused by perceived low relational value. Rather, sadness arises from perceived loss, and anger arises when people perceive that another agent (usually, but not always, a person) has unjustifiably behaved in an undesired fashion that threatens their desires or well-being. ... Anger may be designed to prevent, terminate, or punish specific behaviors that are perceived as an immediate threat.Leary, M. R., Koch, E., & Hechenbleikner, N. (2001). Emotional responses to interpersonal rejection. In M. R. Leary (Ed.), Interpersonal rejection (pp. 145–166). New York: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.31887/DCNS.2015.17.4/mleary.

We are especially sensitive to small changes in the approval of others, especially if they have been very accepting. After examining several possible reasons for this, a 1998 paper concludes, "Whatever the reason, people apparently experience neutral reactions from others as rejecting."Leary, M. R., Haupt, A. L., Strausser, K. S., & Chokel, J. T. (1998). Calibrating the sociometer: The relationship between interpersonal appraisals and the state self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(5), 1290–1299.

Anger and ego

I have already written a series of articles about ego, but there is much more to learn and discuss on this subject. Ray Dalio, in his book Principles: Life and Work, defines an ego barrier as a "subliminal defense mechanism that makes it hard for you to accept your mistakes and weaknesses." In a sense, the ego is a connection between the conscious and unconscious parts of the brain.  Ego tends to react defensively, simplify issues, make excuses and blame others. Ego interference can even cause us to be angry with ourselves at times.


The problem with judging or denying our feelings is that they are likely to emerge in ways we're not prepared to handle.

I mentioned self-importance above.  A person with an exaggerated sense of self-importance will believe their rights and privileges are superior to those of other people.  They may become angry if they do not receive their just due, in their opinion.

Likewise, ego strength influences how someone sees their own role and the role of others in causing or controlling situations. The person who believes happiness means being completely free of emotional pain, fear, and anger is lacking in ego strength and will have a lifetime of disappointments. The same is true for someone who blames their emotions and disappointments on others.  They attempt to manipulate other people and events instead of responding productively.

Joseph Grenny's three types of stories carry a lot of explanatory value:

  • "Victim stories" arise when people believe that they are not responsible for the situation.
  • We are telling a "villain story" if we place blame on the other person.
  • A "helpless story" comes from the belief that there's nothing we can do about the situation.

The belief that anger can motivate another to act is very counterproductive.  Anger is a powerful motivator, but it generally only motivates people to avoid the anger, often in ways that the angry person would not choose.

Closed-minded individuals will see differing viewpoints as threats.  Additionally, a person with a low tolerance for discomfort or ambiguity may react angrily instead of attempting to adapt.

Anger often results from the perception that we have been unfairly treated, unnecessarily hurt, or prevented from achieving something we expected.In addition, anger can result when a belief which benefits us socially is questioned.

More productive beliefs

  • In life, disappointments and setbacks are inevitable.  It is possible to have a richer, more satisfying life by putting effort and imagination into overcoming them rather than reacting angrily.
  • We should not judge the way we feel. It is important to control our reactions, but also to express curiosity about them.  These reactions arise for important reasons, and we should not ignore them.  In order to deal with emotions, it is best to find a healthy outlet that addresses the reasons why they were triggered.
  • A person with high ego strength has a strong grasp of reality.  An internal locus of control means they are aware that their own feelings and wellbeing are largely influenced by their own choices.  However, they recognize that their ability to control the world and influence other people is very limited. 
  • We are not victims.  In general, we are never 100% right, nor always 100% wrong. There is always some level of control in every situation, even when it's just in how we react.
  • When others do things that irritate us, we should not assume they are doing them because they intend to cause trouble.  Rather, we should assume the best.  We should try to take joint responsibility for any problems we have with them, even if they don't think there's a problem or don't accept responsibility for their part.
  • There is almost always something we can do.  Try to think creatively and look at the issue from different angles instead of becoming angry.
  • Persuasion and empathy are much more motivating than anger.  
  • We are rarely 100% right in our viewpoint.  By being open-minded and curious, we can avoid becoming needlessly offended.
  • Life is uncomfortable and nuanced at times.  Learning to adapt reduces frustration to a great extent.  Insisting on our personal preferences all the time is exhausting for ourselves and others.
  • We should constantly evaluate our expectations. Often, they are unrealistic, so getting angry about not reaching them can be counterproductive.
  • Whether you get your way or not doesn't affect your value or importance as a person. 
  • Being approved by a certain person does not define your self-worth.


In addition to personal qualities and beliefs, habits also affect a person's tendency to get angry.  When a person frequently becomes angry in a certain situation, they are developing a habitual response.  

According to a 1996 study, making people pause briefly to weigh both the positives and negatives significantly reduced the destructive impact of anger on decision-making.Leith, K. P., & Baumeister, R. F. (1996). Why do bad moods increase self-defeating behavior? Emotion, risk-taking, and self-regulation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71(6), 1250–1267. 

The old adage to count to ten is great advice.  This allows the amygdala to reset, or at least calm down a bit.  The anger you feel does not need to be taken as a command that must be obeyed right away, but rather as a strong signal your mind and body are sending you that needs your attention.

According to a brain imaging study from 2007, putting feelings into words can reduce the intensity of sadness, anger, and pain.University of California - Los Angeles. (2007, June 22). Putting Feelings Into Words Produces Therapeutic Effects In The BrainScienceDaily.

Whether you are journaling alone or talking it out with a trusted companion, you can also explore the reasons for your anger.

  • Did you not feel heard or understood?
  • Did someone act against your values?
  • Did something block you from moving forward with your goal?
  • Can you associate certain memories with these sources of anger?
  • Is it frustrating for you that you cannot reach your goals, or does something important to you seem threatened?

Other ways to handle anger

We are all human.  It is normal to feel hurt and disappointed from time to time.  This is obvious, so why do I mention it?  Because many unspoken beliefs to the contrary cause a great deal of anger.

I might have perfectionistic tendencies (I do, in fact).  That may lead to unreasonable expectations, both for myself and others.  Since we all are human, we should realize that 99% of the time we are neither victims, nor villains, nor helpless.  We're simply imperfect.  So instead of expecting yourself to always be right, make a commitment to do your best.

Despite ego's attempts to convince us that we are special, our shared humanity should spur us to be compassionate and empathetic. 

Empathy is essentially curiosity. Instead of judging ourselves and others, we look for possible reasons.  Kristin Neff gives an example:

Let’s say you criticize yourself for having an anger issue. What are the causes and conditions that led you to be so angry? Perhaps in-born genetics plays a role. But did you choose your genes before entering this world? Or maybe you grew up in a conflict-filled household in which shouting and anger were the only ways to get heard. But did you choose for your family to be this way? If we closely examine our “personal” failings, it soon becomes clear that they are not entirely personal.Neff, K. D. & Germer, C. (2017). Self-Compassion and Psychological Wellbeing. In J. Doty (Ed.) Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science, Chap. 27. Oxford University Press.

Perhaps it's becoming clear now that it's not just a matter of who is at fault.  In varying degrees, we are all affected by outside forces.  It's much more productive for me to look at what I can do to change a situation, rather than trying to find out who is at fault.

Self-distancing is another productive way to deal with anger.  A study found that "the self-distanced group showed lower cognitive accessibility of anger-related thoughts than the immersed group."Özlem Ayduk & Ethan Kross, Analyzing Negative Experiences Without Ruminating: The Role of Self-Distancing in Enabling Adaptive Self-Reflection. Social and Personality Psychology Compass 4/10 (2010): 841–854, 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2010.00301.x Another study concluded, "Reflecting over provocations from a self-distanced perspective reduces aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, and aggressive behaviors, even in the “heat of the moment.”" Mischkowski, D., Kross, E., & Bushman, B. J. (2012). Flies on the wall are less aggressive: Self-distancing “in the heat of the moment” reduces aggressive thoughts, angry feelings and aggressive behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(5), 1187–1191. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2012.03.012 

Kaira Jewel Lingo recommends treating our own self-judgment like a caretaker rocking a crying baby with tenderness and compassion. "We attend to the pain of the moment, rather than trying to push it away."

What about interpersonal conflicts? Again, focus on shared humanity. Anne-Laure Le Cunff recommends explicitly showing the other person you want to resolve the conflict, with the words, "I would like to resolve this together." Show you care about the other person by acknowledging their strengths. Be vulnerable, and be willing to admit you aren't perfect either.

In fact, a 2006 study found that focussing on vulnerability reduces both angry feelings and thoughts.Bond, A. J., Ruaro, L., & Wingrove, J. (2006). Reducing anger induced by ego threat: Use of vulnerability expression and influence of trait characteristics. Personality and Individual Differences, 40(6), 1087–1097. 

Rather than making judgments, be honest and open about how the situation makes you feel. Instead of saying, "You make me angry when you...," say, "When you do x, I feel frustrated and angry because y."  Don't expect them to agree with you.  If you take the time to understand their viewpoint, they will probably do the same for you.  Reaching an understanding may take several sessions.  Feel free to let the person know that you need a break, but that you intend to resolve the conflict in the end.

Learn to laugh at yourself and not take yourself so seriously. Did you trip and fall on your face in front of coworkers? Instead of getting angry, try making a joke.  "How would you rate that fall? Nine out of ten?" It might seem like everyone is having a laugh at your expense but likely they will be relieved and respect you more as a result of your emotionally intelligent reaction.

Learning how to relate well to others, expressing our concerns, and discussing problems can help cope with anger proactively.

One of the fundamentals of emotional intelligence is naming our emotions, which can help with emotional regulation as well. Psychologist Lisa Barrett says,

If people have 20 words for anger (irritation, fury, rage, hostility), then they will perceive 20 different states and better regulate their emotional states as a result.

Asking ourselves questions can break the cycle of anger.

Joseph Grenny found that by asking himself, "What is the right thing to do right now?" he was able to turn anger and resentment into humility and curiosity.

Samantha Postman wrote a delightful essay about how asking two questions helped both her and her daughter to turn their anger around on two separate occasions.

The questions are:

  1. Who do you want to be?
  2. Are your intended actions true to yourself as that person?


How to take the right kinds of risks

What is the biggest chance you have ever taken?

Did it involve:

  • Starting a business?
  • Asking someone to commit to a relationship?
  • Putting yourself at risk physically?
  • Making an investment?

Most of us probably can't recall many instances involving high risks. Our tendency is to choose the safest option. On the other hand, some people try to feel more alive by making risky choices.

Let's examine the kinds of risks that are worthwhile. In addition, we will discuss errors and biases that lead people to take the wrong approaches to risk. Finally, we'll examine some principles that can help us make wise decisions.

Risks worth taking

Risk and opportunity are two sides of the same coin, as in the phrase, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." What sort of ventures are worthwhile?


We all want to improve our financial situation, and hourly wages can only get us so far.  While investments can have a real impact, they also offer the possibility of greater losses.

Getting a business up and running can be challenging work with many possible risks and rewards.


Social risks go beyond asking the popular girl out on a date:

  • Assertiveness can get us what we need or want, or it can cause others to avoid us.
  • It can be inspiring to say things others hold back from saying, but it can also result in pushback from those who don't want to hear them.
  • If you change a mistaken belief, you risk losing social ties with others who hold that belief.
  • If we ask others for help or favors, we can either get what we want and need, or we can annoy and alienate them.
  • When we listen well, we can strengthen relationships. However, we may hear things we do not want to hear. We may also feel that we are not being heard.

Errors and biases

As a means of simplifying and making sense of all the input we receive, our brains oversimplify in predictable ways. When it comes to risk:

  • When the expected outcome is positive, we tend to make risk-averse choices, but when it is negative, we tend to make risk-seeking choices.
  • As perceived safety increases, we tend to take greater risks.
  • As opposed to reducing a larger risk substantially, we prefer eliminating a small risk.
  • Often we make the mistake of acting as if our information were 100% certain.
  • In general, we perceive risks as inversely proportional to perceived benefits. This is not always the case.
  • We often fail to realize that a small probability of a bad thing happening doesn't mean it won't happen.

We often go into "prospection" mode when thinking about the future. Instead of evaluating what will probably happen, we create scenarios based on what we hope to accomplish. Our thinking can be distorted by overly optimistic estimates of success.Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., & Oettingen, G. (2016). Pragmatic Prospection: How and Why People Think about the Future. Review of General Psychology, 20(1), 3–16. 

Then again, sometimes our fears make a risk seem more daunting than it really is.


Let's say you have $10,000 and someone offers you the opportunity to make a high-risk investment. A $1,000 investment has a 60% chance of doubling and a 40% chance of losing. Would this be a wise investment?

Imagine you invest the money but lose it.This is the "first side" of risk. Will you regret making the investment? Will you do it again?

Let's add another dimension. What if you had the same opportunity every week? Would you try again?

Despite the initial negative experience, it would be foolish not to take advantage of this opportunity. You will eventually gain more than you lose. Occasionally you'll lose money, but you'll double your money more often. Long-term, you'll come out ahead.

This illustrates that taking a series of small risks can result in big gains. Many people find this difficult because we don't like losing. When the odds are favorable, as they are in a case like this, the opportunity cost of not investing is substantial. A proportion of all worthwhile risks will fail. If you don't keep taking risks like this, you are unlikely to achieve success.This is the "second side" of risk.

We can apply the same principle to social relationships as we do to other investments: Take more risks.  It's possible that you will alienate some people, but if you are reasonable, your other relationships will be more rewarding. Keep these points in mind:

  • Always be providing value. It will be easier to get something from someone when you need it.
  • Avoid anticipating rejection.
  • Make the first move to improve the relationship. Take the initiative and show vulnerability.

Other principles:

  • Although popular things appear to be safe because so many people are participating, they are actually the most dangerous because they are the most competitive. Taking a risk when others are avoiding it is better than taking it when they are competing with you.
  • When something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Always assume you're missing something.
  • Do not take big risks based solely on intuition. Do your homework, use statistical analysis, and get advice from others, especially those who might disagree with you.
  • Never risk more than you can afford to lose.
  • Keep an eye out for "tail risk" or "tail-end consequences." Always consider the worst-case scenario. The worst can happen to you. If you take enough similar risks, or if you take on a big project, the consequences will happen to you. For example, avalanche zones are dangerous, and skiers who enter them often enough (which may be just one time) will encounter this deadly phenomenon.This is the "third side" of risk.
  • Every day, improbable things happen, and probable things fail to happen.
  • By taking a close look at actual risks and putting them into perspective relative to other known threats, as well as by developing interventions, we can reduce both fear and actual danger.
  • Become familiar with the notion of reversion to the mean. Investments that seem risky today may do well tomorrow. A performance that is overvalued today will fall in value in the future.  

People who accept challenges and take risks in order to grow, and learn from their mistakes when they fail, have higher self-esteem. Self-esteem also gives one the confidence to take more risks.

Self-affirmation - reflecting positively on an aspect of one's identity that is unrelated to an area of risk - leads to people being more willing to examine material that can help them understand their risks.I'll write more about this subject in a future article.

In self-distancing, both the bias of overweighting small probabilities and underweighting large probabilities are reduced.

You bet your life

The way we spend our time determines the kind of life we live. If your life ended tomorrow, would you be able to say that you had done what you truly cared about? What would you be willing to do for the rest of your life? What would it take for you to pursue it now?

We often avoid choosing a life that makes us happy because of our fear of change. Is it anxiety or a lack of imagination that prevents us from living the life we want?

One of the greatest risks is not truly living. Find ways to get closer to your dreams. Stand up for what you believe in

Find out how you can make a positive contribution to society, and get started today. Take on challenges and risks in order to grow, and learn from your mistakes when you fail.

Have the courage to be the kind of person you want to be while spending your time in a way that serves others and brings you closer to the life you want. Will it be worth it? You bet your life.

What are keystone habits?

Charles Duhigg coined this term in his book The Power of Habits.  According to Duhigg, a keystone habit has power to to change your self image, that is, to make you see yourself in a different way.

Keystone habits move you closer to a goal and give you a sense of accomplishment.  They also enhance your ability to acquire other beneficial habits.  Before we discuss some examples, let's understand why this is an important topic to discuss. 

Why are they important?

Benefits of keystone habits include:

  • Making healthier eating choices
  • Procrastinating less
  • Keeping up with household chores
  • Reducing credit card use
  • Increased confidence
  • Higher grades in school
  • Better emotional control
  • Generally feeling better and being more productive

Examples of keystone habits, and why each one is useful

Getting up early

Belle Cooper, Tiago Forte, and Benjamin Franklin all credit being 'early to rise' for their success.  Pair it with the next one, and you have a great formula for productivity.

Planning your day the night before

Imagine you plan to take a trip on Saturday.  You don't start thinking about the details until Saturday morning, when you wake up and decide where to go, what to bring, and who to invite.  How much fun will the trip be?  Not much.  In the same way, we will accomplish little if we don't start the day with a plan.

Want another reason to plan the evening before?  The unfinished work of the day will be on your mind.  Your next day's work will be clear to you.  List everything you plan to do the following day, along with your motivation.  Do not count on yourself to recall either of those two things.

And go to bed on time.  Don't be night guy.

Regular exercise

Exercise has so many benefits. Countless studies support this.  If you exercise properly, you can add years to your life.  It helps you feel better and think more clearly, so you can accomplish more.  Additionally, it tends to make eating healthy easier.


When you practice writing, you learn how to structure your thoughts more coherently, to construct rational arguments, and to tell stories in a clear and insightful manner. You will also become a more insightful thinker as a result.

(Food) Journaling

Tracking what we eat makes us more mindful.  It's easier to spot unhealthy trends.  Journaling of any kind is beneficial in the same way.  In fact, keeping a future self journal is a great way to avoid a host of common regrets.

Eating family dinner

Duhigg contends that children from families who share dinner regularly tend to have better grades, more self-confidence, and better self-control.

Making your bed

Judy Dutton cites a survey of 68,000 people by that reveals 59 percent of respondents don't make their beds.  Of those, 62 percent consider themselves unhappy.  On the other hand, of those who make their beds, 71 percent consider themselves happy.  She adds, "Bed makers are also more likely to like their jobs, own a home, exercise regularly, and feel well rested, whereas non-bed-makers hate their jobs, rent apartments, avoid the gym, and wake up tired."

Navy SEAL and admiral William McRaven delivered a commencement address to the graduates of The University of Texas at Austin in 2014.  Among other things, he advised the graduates to make their beds each morning.  Here are the reasons he gave:

  • You will have accomplished the first task of the day... By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.
  • Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can't do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.
  • If by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

Practicing visualization

I'll quote myself here:

There is a giant body of evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, that visualization greatly increases the odds of success. 


This keystone habit can lead to greater mindfulness about nutrition and calorie intake since you are creating the meals you eat.  It is also a great foundation for socializing.  Speaking of which:


Relationships are beneficial to everyone (if you need convincing, go here).  Some people make it a habit to have some contact with a different friend every single day.


Reading is a very useful habit.  Studies show reading is a self-improvement tool in itself.Thanks to Stanislaw Pstrokonski for directing me to this paper: Cunningham, A., & Stanovich, K. (1998). What Reading Does for the Mind. The American Educator, 22, 8-15. Note Table 1 on page 3. Compare the vocabulary used in TV shows and books.  The vocabulary in preschool books is more diverse than that found in most television shows.  No wonder the paper reports a correlation between time spent reading and accurate knowledge of the world.  There is, however, an inverse correlation when it comes to time spent watching television!  Most people recognize that reading non-fiction is beneficial, but reading fiction can also help the reader develop beneficial qualities.

The key to developing this habit:  Read something you enjoy.  And don't be afraid to stop reading a book you're not enjoying.  There's no obligation to finish a book you are reading for pleasure.

Other useful habits

Even Brushing your teeth can be a keystone habit.  You can also build other habits onto it, including flossing.  

Image from a flowchart for discovering ways to replace one habit with another

How to create a keystone habit

Whole books have been written on this subject, but the basic idea is fairly simple.  As the image above shows, every habit involves a cue, a reward, and a routine.

A cue is something in the environment that triggers the behavior.  The reward provides the motivation.  You can change a habit by simply associating the reward with a different behavior.  This will likely take time, which is why many people think a new habit takes 30 days (or some other arbitrary number) to form.  Actually, the time frame isn't fixed.  It will take the brain as long as it needs to associate the reward with the new behavior.  Logically, if the reward is big, it will require less time.

To build a habit:

  • Start small.  The behavior should be easy to do.  If you want to run regularly, for example, start the habit by placing your running shoes where you can see them. For the first few days, don't expect more of yourself than this.
  • Make sure the reward matters to you. 
  • Here's why replacing an old habit with a new one works: The existing habit assures you that you already crave the reward.  However, you may also be able to find something new to reward yourself with.
  • Make sure the reward quickly follows the behavior.  You are a human animal.
  • Identify the cue.  If you're starting from scratch, create one.  It could be an alarm on your phone.  It could be a sign on your bedroom door.  Be creative.
  • Remind yourself why you are forming this habit.  Be sure that your future self remains convinced.
  • Track your progress.  You could mark off days on a calendar.  You could move paperclips from one jar to another.
  • Establish a daily time and place for your new habit.  Schedule it for a time when you are likely to be rested and uninterrupted.
  • Create implementation intentions: When __Cue__, I will  __Behavior__, because __Reason__.

By all means, keep track of your efforts somewhere (keep a habit journal).  That way you'll be able to see how far you've come and celebrate your accomplishments!


What are emotions?

As I was writing articles about emotional intelligence I began to wonder, just what are emotions?These articles include What Is Emotional Intelligence, How to Handle Criticism Like a Superhero, The Three-Step Method to Emotional Intelligence, and Empathy - What Is It? Why is It Important? How to Be More Empathetic.

What can science tell us?

While researching this topic, I found what I consider to be the mother lode.  I'm breaking from my practice of using multiple sources to gain a well-rounded understanding of a topic, and I will focus this entire post on one article.Scarantino, Andrea and Ronald de Sousa, "Emotion", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

This is no ordinary scholarly article.  In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "a scholarly, dynamic reference work," you will find this article with a fascinating history.  Written in 2003, the article has undergone four substantive changes since then.  It is associated with a highly prestigious institution, and it has been available for scholars and the public to view for 18 years now, so I have little doubt that it is accurate.

I am writing this to make the article more accessible to laypeople like myself, and more specifically, the process of writing this summary has forced me to wrap my head around the highly academic concepts it contains.  Let's get to it.

How much do we know about emotions?

How often do we encounter something so central to life, involving life and death in some cases, and yet we understand so little of it?

No aspect of our mental life is more important to the quality and meaning of our existence than the emotions. They are what make life worth living and sometimes worth ending.

In spite of all the research done on emotions in the last 100 years, we still don't have a clear understanding of what they are.  How much do we know?

Are emotions:

  • Occurrences or dispositions?
  • Short-lived or long-lived?
  • Processed primitively in the brain or in a sophisticated manner?
  • Conscious or unconscious?
  • Accompanied by typical facial expressions, or not?
  • A human characteristic, or shared by other species?

The answer is all of the above.

A person can panic or be prone to hostility. While anger can be short-lived, grief can last for months. A person may be quickly alarmed by a looming object, or they may realize gradually that they are losing a chess match.  Obvious facial expressions accompany surprise but not sadness. Although all species experience fear, schadenfreude (rejoicing in the pain of others) is a uniquely human emotion.

All emotions contain components:

  • Evaluative: Determining that a bear is dangerous
  • Physiological: Heart rate and blood pressure increase
  • Phenomenological: A strong, unpleasant feeling
  • Expressive: The upper eyelids raise and the jaw drops open
  • Behavioral: Fleeing from the bear
  • Mental: All the attention is focused on the bear

Do emotions cause these components, or do the components cause emotions? There is no consensus among academics regarding the answer to this question.

Three modern approaches

According to the article, modern approaches to understanding emotions can be divided into three main categories:

  • Those following the Feeling Tradition view emotions as unique conscious experiences whose main characteristic is how they feel.
  • In the Evaluative Tradition, emotions are primary in the way they understand the world, and emotions are (or involve) distinctive evaluations of the circumstances eliciting them.
  • Emotions are considered distinctive motivational states in the Motivational Tradition.

We can better understand these three schools of thought by examining the following questions:

  • Are emotions feelings?
  • Are they judgments?
  • Are they motivations?
  • Are they associated with objects (another person, for example), or can they be undirected?

Let's consider how each tradition weighs in on each of these four main questions.

The Feeling Tradition

Are emotions feelings?

Yes. They are considered to be similar to other sensory experiences, like tasting chocolate or feeling a pain in one's back.

Are they judgments?

Only to the extent that an object or quality is associated with the emotion. For example, a person feels fear when they see a bear, because bears are scary.

Are they motivations?

This tradition considers action and emotion to be essentially the same thing.

Are they associated with objects (another person, for example), or can they be undirected?

Both. A person who associates slights with anger may feel angry at someone who slights them. A person may also be angry at no one in particular, simply because they are not happy with the way things have turned out in their life.

The Evaluative Tradition

Are emotions feelings?

Not directly. This tradition views emotions primarily as judgments. Some hold the idea that emotions are essentially thoughts (cognitions or evaluations), while others believe that emotions come from cognitions or evaluations.

In the cause-and-effect relationship between judgments and other components of emotions, some advocate for one direction, while others advocate the reverse. This leads to a chicken-and-egg type of problem.

Currently, the majority of dominant theories of emotion are hybrids of the Evaluative and Feeling traditions.

Are they judgments?


The presence of recalcitrant emotions, that is, emotions that contradict a person's cognitive assessment of their situation, is problematic for this tradition.  Even someone who judges a transparent platform at the Grand Canyon to be safe might still be afraid to step on it.

Some researchers attempt to explain this by saying that emotions have a narrative (story) structure that plays itself out during the course of each emotional episode, and stories take place over stretches of time.  To be honest, this part made the least sense to me.

Are they motivations?


There are problems with this view. Motivation does not always follow a judgment. Also, animals and infants are not capable of forming judgments as we normally define them. In addition, emotions can be contrary to good judgment.

In order to compensate for this, some theorists add other components to judgments, such as feelings, beliefs, or desires.

What about emotions that contradict every conscious thought? For example, consider the above example of the transparent platform over the Grand Canyon. To explain the conflict between cognitive judgment and emotion, some compare the phenomenon to a visual illusion, where we perceive a pencil in a glass of water as bent, yet believe it to be straight.

Proponents of this tradition believe motivation stems from the feeling that something is worthy of attention and action.

Are they associated with objects (another person, for example), or can they be undirected?

Only to the extent that I associate the emotion with an object. For example, if I think of ice as being dangerous, I will feel fear when thinking about stepping onto it.

The Motivational Tradition

Are emotions feelings?

Yes, and to the extent they are pleasant or painful, they move us toward or away from the stimulus.

The tradition holds that an emotion can be viewed as a type of program that becomes active under certain circumstances and produces certain results. However, no empirical evidence has confirmed this.

According to this view, emotions indicate the body's readiness for action.

Are they judgments?

In this view, no. Emotions are considered to be attitudes rather than judgments.

Are they motivations?

According to the Motivational Tradition, emotions are directed toward achieving some sort of goal. This position poses problems:

  • Grief and depression, for example, demotivate rather than motivate.
  • Some emotions, such as regret, don't clearly motivate action.
  • Can someone who is jumping for joy be said to have a clear motivation?
  • A particular emotion does not always lead to a certain action, and an action may be prompted by more than one emotion.

Are they associated with objects (another person, for example), or can they be undirected?

This tradition doesn't appear to offer a clear explanation of the relationships between emotions and associated objects.

How do modern theories of emotion view the relationship between emotions and rational thinking?

Though logic is considered the opposite of emotion, rationality is not the same. Emotions can not be logical, but they can be rational. How? Emotion theorists specify three ways: An emotion can be fitting, warranted, or coherent.

If a person fears something that is truly dangerous, their fear is fitting.

Imagine someone feeling fear when a mechanical shark appears alongside their boat. The fear is not fitting, but it is warranted. The object demonstrates certain signs of danger.

If someone believes flying is dangerous and fears it, this is rationally coherent. It may not make sense, given that other modes of transportation are more hazardous, however logic is not the issue. The person's view of flying and their emotion are consistent with one another.

Irrational emotions would include:

  • Anger towards someone even after learning they did not do what we thought they did.
  • The act of panicking during a house fire and not paying attention to life-saving instructions given by the fireman.

Changes in prominent academic views on emotions over the years

Comparing the newest version (2018 revision) to the original version (2003) of this document has given me a good idea of the changes in general consensus among experts in the field of study of emotions. Here are some factors that have remained the same:

  • Emotions typically involve conscious experiences.
  • Emotions can vary considerably in many dimensions: intensity, types of associated objects, expressions, behaviors, and physiological responses, to name a few.

There have been some changes:

  • Though emotions were traditionally considered the opposite of reason, this no longer applies.
  • Recent research has shifted the focus from the role of emotions in moral and social life to the role of emotions in motivation.
  • Most researchers believe emotions represent something, such as intentionality.

In addition, modern neuroscience has led to more conclusions:

  • No specific part of the brain controls emotions. They can't even be tied to the brain specifically, but are part of the body and being as a whole.
  • Emotions can arise independently from conscious thought or experience.
  • Emotions can be appropriate or inappropriate.
  • Typically, they involve some kind of appraisal.
  • They typically correlate with changes in motivation.

However, the details are still being debated.

My conclusion

Emotions change over time, as does our understanding of them.  While unsatisfying, this seems fitting.

The different schools of thought discussed in this article remind me of the differing perspectives of critical thinking experts.  While we have a long way to go before we have a single standard definition for either critical thinking or emotions, it is good to know that we can at least understand what most experts agree on.  Right now, this is all anyone can ask for.