Emotional control is what many people take for granted and it can easily become a means to a poorer state of well-being when overused. Instead, psychologists suggest a more flexible use of the same, depending on the situation.
Emotions are natural, and you cannot ‘control’ them in the literal sense. In fact, you really shouldn’t. However, being emotionally flexible and giving way to different emotional reactions depending on the situation is what researchers have found to be the key to a happier and better-balanced life.
Being flexible means that there is no ‘single’ strategy that can fit all situations, and this means that you should allow your emotions to vary depending on the situation. However, the situations you choose to reappraise determine the outcome of your emotional well-being.
In a study called The Wisdom to Know the Difference, researchers analyzed in which situations the participants tried to use emotion-regulation strategies and they found a crucial difference in the approach of those with a relatively high well-being and those who lacked the same.
According to the strategy-situation-fit hypothesis, emotion-regulation strategies contribute to the well-being of a person only when used in appropriate contexts. In other words, controlling your emotions in every given situation does not work as well as choosing when to control them, depending on the situation.
Going from this hypothesis, the research team asked the participants to report how they managed their emotions in different situations and how much control they had over those situations.
The results showed that the participants who exhibited a state of high well-being chose different approaches depending on the controllability of the situation.
For situations they couldn’t control, they chose to reevaluate their emotions and reappraise the situation. Not tying yourself emotionally to situations that you cannot control is crucial to understanding them and learning something out of them.
However, the same is not true about situations that you can control. For situations they could control, they didn’t use any emotion-regulation strategies but rather used those emotions as a motivator to change the situation.
As the authors explain, reappraising situations that can be directly changed undermines the adaptive function of emotions in motivating action.
All in all, it’s rather simple.
Change your emotions when you can’t change the situation, accept that you are not in charge of the events that are happening, and understand the message from that situation.
Don’t change your emotions when you can change the situation, accept your role in the situation and use your emotions to motivate you to change that situation.