1. We always have a choice.
Often we can’t control how we feel, but we can control how we respond. There is a crucial space between our emotions and our actions in which we can pause instead of react. We can ask ourselves some seemingly simple questions about how we choose to respond: Is this useful? Is this kind? Does this reflect who I am? The Mishna says, “Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations” (Ethics of the Fathers, 4:1). Inner strength is being able to choose to rise above a feeling and not let it dictate your actions.
2. Gratitude counteracts negativity.
One of the most powerful ways that we can counteract negative feelings is to focus on what we have instead of on what we don’t have. A whole range of negative emotions from sadness to anger can stem from a persistent feeling of lack in every area of our lives. Not enough money, not enough time, not enough success.
The Mishna teaches, “Who is rich? One who is satisfied with what he has.” We cultivate a feeling of gratitude by focusing on the many blessings in our lives.
3. Learning transforms our emotions.
Wisdom and knowledge can teach us to look beyond the confines of our own feelings and perspectives. Seeing things through another person’s eyes can give us the flexibility that we need to use some of our emotions and let go of others. “Who is wise?” the Mishna asks. “One who learns from every man.” Learning from every person and every situation can help us ask ourselves: Is there another way to see this problem? What have I learned today? Has someone else ever felt this way and turned this challenge into an opportunity?
4. Respecting others gives us respect.
One of the hallmarks of truly successful and fulfilled individuals is how respectful they are to every person and how much they go out of their way to add value to other people’s lives. As the Mishna says, “Who is honorable? One who honors others.” Many of us try to win respect through our achievements, but while accomplishments may bring temporary admiration in their wake, true respect is only built by giving respect to everyone around us. This is the kind of emotion that no one can take away from us because we control it by constantly giving honor to others. We can ask ourselves: Am I being generous with my time, my words, my presence? Am I treating others the way that I want to be treated?
If we don’t control our emotions they will pull us down. Being aware of our feelings and choosing how to channel them will ultimately set us free. “Beloved is man for he is created in the image of God and he is even more beloved because it was made known to him that he was created in God’s image” (Ethics of the Fathers, 3:14). Our awareness itself is a gift; we have within us this infinite light that allows us to choose who we want to be at every moment of our lives.