Have you ever thought about feeling an emotion at a specific time?  Do you wake in the morning and think “I am going to feel empathy today”?

As a rule, emotions are not digital. We don’t turn them on and off like a light switch. Some emotions come on quickly while others lead our actions like a well-traveled school bus driver. Emotions can settle in for a fortnight like an unwanted relative or flash and burn quickly like a piece of ignited magnesium.

Fortunately, emotions can be cultivated. Gratitude, happiness and empathy may not be something we feel every minute of everyday.  However, we can grow them and tend to them like we would nurture a beautiful rose garden.


We can practice positive emotions like we practice piano. If you took music lessons as a child but hadn’t played in years, I wouldn’t expect that you could sit down and immediately bang out a Mozart sonata. You would need to practice … a lot.  When you practice piano everyday, the improvement is remarkable.

One way to practice an emotion is to set an intention. That may sound lame but you are literally telling your own brain to focus on something specific. Positive emotions respond incredibly well to your intentions.


It is also important to define the emotion you are targeting. For example, empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s situation. It is reaching inside to find the feeling that grips another person. Empathy is not feeling sorry for someone; that is sympathy.

Stock photo of two girls, empathy

If it is your intention is to truly connect with someone, you must be able to feel what they feel. That can be very uncomfortable in times of stress or sorrow. The key is to remember that for the receiving person, empathy is positive. After all, communication is ultimately about it’s impact on the receiver.


When we cultivate empathy, we grow compassion.  Compassion leads us to take actions to help others. When we take action to help others, we fill our gratitude bucket.  Who can’t use more gratitude?

Where in your life can you expand your empathy?  How can you get started today?




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