By Olivia K. Pitkethly, MA, LMHC

The popularity of emotional intelligence has boomed in the past 20 years after psychologist Daniel Goleman authored a book of the same name in 1995. However, the concept is still relatively new to many individuals.

Emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) is defined by Goleman as a set of skills, including control of one’s impulses, self-motivation, empathy and social competence in interpersonal relationships. Basically, being aware of your own emotions and the emotions of others. This awareness can aid in a variety of relationships, including marital, familial, academic and professional. The more we understand ourselves, the more we understand each other. Having a higher EQ will improve your listening skills, help you develop empathy for others and make it easier to express your emotions.

It is never too late, or too early, to improve emotional intelligence. Kristen Gonzalez, a second-grade teacher at Newberry Elementary, teaches EI to her students every year. She starts by teaching her students about empathy. They read “How Full Is Your Bucket” by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer and discuss how the character has negatively and positively affected those around him. Gonzalez follows her lesson on empathy with emotion regulation. She provides a safe space for children to go when they are having difficulty with sadness, frustration or anxiety. In the safe space, they have the opportunity to practice breathing techniques or use other calming tools available.

“At the beginning of each year, the children are taking their frustrations out on each other, saying unkind things, not knowing how to communicate their feelings,” said Gonzalez. “By the end of every year, they are cheering each other on, building each other’s confidence, and making learning possible for their classmates.”

Research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that adults can also reap benefits from improving their EI. Participants learned what causes them stress, how to manage it and how to communicate with others who may be in a similar situation. They then took what they learned and practiced it over a month’s time. Results showed that learning and practicing the basics of emotional competency improved their life satisfaction by 12 percent and decreased their perceived level of stress by 24 percent.

To improve your EI, think back to the last argument you had with a loved one. You can probably recall what you said, maybe what the other person said. How did you feel? If you say, “angry,” push yourself to dig a little deeper. Were you annoyed, frustrated, irritated? What was the underlying factor? Was it fear? What were you afraid of?

Emotional intelligence is more than just saying, “yes I was angry.” It is about understanding what that anger looks like for you and what triggers it. What are your behaviors when you are angry? Do you cry, scream, hit or kick? Think about what you do to feel better. Do you meditate, exercise or take a walk? Do you drink alcohol or engage in emotional eating? Examine how your coping strategies helped or hurt you. Ask yourself if you could do something else to improve your emotional well-being. By helping yourself, or “filling your bucket,” you will be in a healthier place to help others.