“Atlas of the Heart” by Brene Brown: Feelings to Know

In Brené Brown‘s newest book, Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience, 87 different emotions and experiences are described and defined, giving readers “the nuanced language to fully understand our feelings and express them to others” (Seira WilsonAmazon Editor, review).

The popularity of Brown’s research, talks, and writing is so off the charts that HBO Max has already optioned the book for a series you’ll someday be able to stream. So, read the book now—or wait to watch.

Why do we need this book/series from the woman Belinda Luscombe, Time, calls “the Dr. Fauci of feelings”? Luscombe states, “In surveys taken by 7,000 people over five years, Brown and her team found that on average people can identify only three emotions as they are actually feeling them: happiness, sadness and anger. For Brown, who made her name by illuminating the finer contours of humans’ emotional landscape, this is not nearly enough.”

According to Luscombe, in addition to Brown continuing her modeling of vulnerability by sharing personal aspects of her own life, in Atlas of the Heart she also makes a confession about her professional life: she has frequently touted something she now considers misguided.

For two decades, I’ve said, “We need to understand emotion so we can recognize it in ourselves and others,” she writes. “Well, let me go on the record right now: I no longer believe that we can recognize emotion in other people, regardless of how well we understand human emotion and experience or how much language we have.”

Luscombe goes on to add, “This is not to dismiss psychotherapy (we presume), but to encourage people to talk about what they’re going through rather than expecting others to know—and to listen, rather than guess.”

Selected Atlas of the Heart Quotes (culled from various online sources):

In our research, we found that everyone who showed a deep capacity for joy had one thing in common: they practiced gratitude. In the midst of joy, there’s often a quiver, a shudder of vulnerability. Rather than using that as a warning sign to practice imagining the worst-case scenario, the people who lean into joy use the quiver as a reminder to practice gratitude.

Anxiety and excitement feel the same, but how we interpret and label them can determine how we experience them.

Do I have enough information to freak out? The answer is normally no. Will freaking out help? The answer is always no.

Hope is a function of struggle—we develop hope not during the easy or comfortable times, but through adversity and discomfort.

Don’t look away. Don’t look down. Don’t pretend not to see hurt. Look people in the eye. Even when their pain is overwhelming. And when you’re hurting and in pain, find the people who can look you in the eye.

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