OK, this isn't a surprising discovery -- that "people differ so widely in their emotional responses to the ups and downs of life."
So say psychologist Richard Davidson and science writer Sharon Begley in their recently published book, "The Emotional Life of Your Brain."
But in the opening lines of their One Brain Does Not Fit All chapter, Davidson points out how there's a common assumption that people are predictable.
If you believe most self-help books, pop-psychology articles, and television therapists, then you probably assume that how people respond to significant life events is pretty predictable.
Most of us, according to the "experts," are affected in just about the same way by a given experience -- there is a grieving process that everyone goes through, there is a sequence of events that happens when we fall in love, there is a standard response to being jilted, and there are fairly standard ways almost every normal person reacts to the birth of a child, to being unappreciated at one's job, to having an unbearable workload, to the challenges of raising teenagers, and to the inevitable changes that occur with aging.
These same experts confidently recommend steps we all can take to regain our emotional footing, weather a setback in life or love, become more (or less) sensitive, handle anxiety with aplomb... and otherwise become the kind of people we want to be.
But my thirty-plus years of research have shown that the one-size-fits-all assumptions are even less valid in the realm of emotion than they are in medicine.
This passage made me think about how true this is in spirituality, religion, and mysticism also. Usually teachings in these areas also assume that every devotee, disciple, or church member will have similar reactions to the same influences.
Such goes against the core tenet of this here Church of the Churchless, where we're into preaching the gospel of spiritual independence. So it's nice to see scientific research coming to the same conclusion.
I've only just begun to read ""The Emotional Life of Your Brain." However, I've already learned that cognitive and emotional processes in the brain aren't as distinct as was once thought. So how one thinks and how one feels are tightly linked.
The result: amazing variety.
Each of us responds differently to emotional triggers, and to talk about "most people" or "the average person" completely misses the mark.
...We now know that this picture of a static, unchanging brain is wrong. Instead, the brain has a property called neuroplasticity, the ability to change its structure and function in significant ways. That change can come about in responses to the experiences we have as to the thoughts we think.
...There is no ideal Emotional Style...Civilizations couldn't flourish without different emotional types, including the extremes.
I used to give talks to members of my spiritual group that were decidedly heretical to traditionalists in the organization. Afterward, often someone would come up to me and say, "I'm so glad you said what you did. I thought I was the only person who felt that way."
I'd think, "That's unfortunate. Individual dIfferences should be embraced by religious/spiritual groups, not downplayed or disapproved of."
Be yourself. Enthusiastically. As if you have a choice.