You Say It's Your Birthday?

I celebrated another birthday last month. As I have mellowed, so too have the celebrations. Quiet dinners with my family have replaced loud parties with friends, and moderation isn't something I scoff at any more. Instead of using the day as an excuse to indulge and go crazy, my birthdays are now an occasion for quiet reflection. In a way, I've brought the celebration inside.

This has made my mind my most important participant in my celebration. If my mind isn't right, it won't be much of a celebration. Because of this, on my birthday, I resolve not to let anything drag me down and to focus only on the positive.

If I dump half of the top shelf in the refrigerator trying to get orange juice for breakfast, who cares - it's my birthday. If a fellow commuter challenges me on my drive to work, not a problem - it's my birthday. If the kids leave the kitchen a mess, it's not the end of the world - it's my birthday.

I attempt to control and direct my emotions to improve my experiences, practicing emotional intelligence - the ability to recognize and control one's emotions for personal development.

The term emotional intelligence has been around for more than 100 years. Though there isn't consensus among scientists about its validity as actual intelligence, most of us can benefit from its general foundation - awareness and purposeful manipulation of human emotion. If we can be aware of our emotions and their causes, we can attempt to control them.

I learned about emotional intelligence by reading the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. Before reading the book, I accepted my emotions as a consequence of daily activities - something that would come and go. I resisted dwelling on my emotions and their causes, thereby undervaluing their effect on life satisfaction and personal development.

Emotional intelligence starts with awareness of emotions. At almost every point in the day, our emotions color our perception of the world, even if we are unaware of this effect. If you are combing through your e-mail, and you come across a message from someone who has disappointed or angered you recently, that anger and disappointment comes back. Though those emotions might not be as intense as they once were, they still affect us and our approach to the world, while they are with us.

Likewise, when we take time to notice the simple things in life, like the peaceful quiet of a new morning dawn, we fuel ourselves with positive emotions. Someone who can become tuned in to his emotions can minimize their negative disruptions while exploiting their positive benefits, but it takes practice. Like learned intelligence, emotional intelligence gains strength through repetition.

I stressed emotional intelligence on my birthday this year, and I had a great, peaceful day, which tells me that I need to do that the other 364 days of the year. I'm pretty sure that I'm bending pages in the second half of this really intriguing book called life, and it's getting good. It will be better with emotional intelligence.

-- Mitch Arnold