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What is the key to elevating your mood?

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Povilas S
Povilas S Sep 21, 2020
What do you do when you feel down? Do you just carry on with your daily tasks as planned or do you try to lift your spirit up first? Is there one thing/method that works the best for you when you want to elevate your mood or do you choose a “remedy” according to a specific moment?

We all experience mood swings, although some people more than others. I would argue that a substantial level of positive mood is the most important factor for performing well in any field and life in general, no need to mention being happy, cause that’s just a synonym for good enough mood. You can have a high intellect, skills, and necessary physical resources, but if you won’t have enough emotional resources there might be no motivation to even climb out of your bed. On the contrary, if you are in an extremely high mood, you can do more in a few days than some people manage to do in a few months. So knowing how to positively and reliably influence your own mood is about the most valuable skill you can learn. Unfortunately, it’s not common knowledge of how to do this, but if we could develop an efficient and reliable enough method this would have enormous benefits for both individuals and society.

So is it possible to develop a system for lifting up and sustaining the mood that would efficiently work for most of the people in most cases or is this highly personal and unpredictable? Is it even a reasonable thing to aim to sustain elevated mood for longer periods of time or is it just natural and even beneficial to experience ups and downs?
Creative contributions

"System" as a curious word

Anja M
Anja M Oct 07, 2020
Although I understand what lies in your question of developing a system, if I look at it a bit more I notice another potential layer of interpretation.

In sum, I think we do develop certain systems as daily coping mechanisms for both positive and negative stress we experience. Those who don't usually suffer from some depressive or other disorders or these disorders are the reason a person cannot adapt well enough for various daily encounters in the world (this is a bit chicken/egg question and depends on numerous factors for an individual, so I will leave it aside). These "mechanisms" involve both some more clearly established maneuvres (e.g. particular motivational phrases/yoga/certain songs/people to address), but also a wide array of different and not necessarily connected activities.

It seems like when we are brimming with negative thoughts and emotions, what happens is we somehow cannot find our feet at the moment and that always, even if deeply subconsciously, renders us restless and in with a dose of uncertainty. And this "uncertainty" ranges from something benign to more acute or chronic levels of anxiety. And this is where a "system" comes in. In the mentioned states, we sometimes try too hard and indulge in repetitive habits, both petty (e.g.listening to certain music), and those not to so much (e.g.alcohol, drugs). In any case, as human beings tend to generally rely on their analytic, thus categorizing powers, perhaps such systems would do us more damage than good if we cling to them in the times of our needs too much, too much being the key phrase. And regarding this topic this can be directly linked to the general dissonance between our rational and emotional abilities, where we deal much easier with the former, and usually are the slowest to develop the latter. So, advancing the "system" too much can perhaps latently mean promoting our rational part on the account of the emotional, or it happens to happen like that more often than we actually plan for, and because we don't live through these emotions if we should, but somehow postpone or cover them up. So that phrase: "Just let it go for a moment." while striking on the rational "order" and "clear classification" is letting ourselves just experience those emotions as they come, for us to afterward get to see how to deal with them. Afterward is in these moments essential here because the emotion is literally felt and we are clear enough from it to start the calming process where we can engage the mind more now, instead of a former suppression of emotions.

On the other hand, yes, it is possible to develop healthy coping mechanisms and we should doubtlessly do it. Psychotherapy and psychology are generally helpful with these, whereas we know an individual discovers those more pathological frameworks of dealing with whatever issues. Additionally, I will mention some ascetic practices. Apart from some far-eastern ones we usually have in mind, in many other monotheistic practices we encounter dealing with such problems, from the smallest of mood swings to larger imbalanced states of being. One example: among other such issues, Christian tradition recognizes something called a "Noonday demon":
"In the writings of Evagrius Ponticus, a Christian monk and ascetic, the Noonday Demon is specifically responsible for acedia, which he describes as "daemon qui etiam meridianus vocatur", attacking the cenobites most frequently between the hours of ten and two. It caused a sentiment characterized by exhaustion, listlessness, sadness, or dejection, restlessness, aversion to the cell and ascetic life, and yearning for family and former life." There are often instructions to engage in manual work and prayers which will empty the mind, where we notice "emptying the mind" as an ever-recurring momentum, which points exactly to, let's call them: the tricks our mind plays on us to engage us even further in the negative spiral.

It is a huge topic, but I hope I managed to convey the basics. :) Of course, we are not only "mind" and only "emotions", and we have to always remain aware these two are too intricately intertwined.
Also, perhaps at the first sight, I strayed a bit from the original question, asking about more daily moods. However, I think they are intersected with some more long-term states of mind, as we also form different coping/behavioral patterns along the way.


Michael Dembinski
Michael Dembinski5 months ago
Great to see this subject tackled so seriously.

I'd like to start by reflecting on the profound difference between 'joy' and 'pleasure'; the former being what we should aim for in terms of lifting mood; the second as something more material and fleeting. 'Retail therapy' or driving a car way too fast down a winding road is pleasure, rather than joy.

I have asked myself often how to create those moments of joy repeatably, reliably.

Too often, the answer is related to weather - like many people in the Northern Hemisphere, I get Subsyndromal Seasonal Affective Disorder, a milder form of SAD; brought on by the Hammer of Darkness as I call it, after the clocks go back in late October, lack of sunlight brings me down. Sunny days in midwinter, however, lift my mood - especially when snow on the ground reflects that brightness.

Anyway, more about the search for repeatable moments of joy...

Povilas S
Povilas S5 months ago
Hi Michael. Thanks for contributing to the topic:) It's a very important subject indeed. Even the most important, if you'd ask me.

I agree with what you said about joy vs. pleasure in the sense that the latter one is more physical/physiological and the former is more psychological/emotional/spiritual. But I would add that it's hard and perhaps too complicated and unnecessary to try distinguishing the two, because they are usually intertwined and hardly separable from one another, just like physiology is influencing your emotions and emotions your physiology.

Those two terms are also subjective in a personal sense, for example, for me, driving a car for fun associates much more with joy rather than pleasure. Also shopping, for me, most of the time is not a very joyful neither pleasant activity, but in some cases, it could be joyful and for some people, I believe it might be joyful in general.

I also agree with weather and especially sunny days having a huge influence. Although from personal experience I'd say being in predominantly sunny geographical locations you get used to it quite quickly and just can't tell that it's affecting you, so I believe you develop a certain tolerance, like with everything that's enjoyable. The effect is the greatest/most noticeable and perhaps the most enjoyable when you can experience contrast - e.g. after a week of cloudy days get a few days or a week of sunny ones. Or just fly to a southern hemisphere in winter.

I like your blog post about repeatable joy. Two things that stood out the most for me - "failing to plan is planning to fail" (I usually improvise more than plan, so maybe need more balance on that). On the other hand, this reminded me of the opposite saying - "best plan no plan". Also the closing paragraph about money not buying happiness, but buying options and that it's up to you what you are going to do with those options - very true.
Povilas S
Povilas S9 months ago
Wow, that's a whole extensive article on the topic, thanks a lot, I appreciate it:) Approaching this from a spiritual/philosophical perspective - yes, uncertainty seems to be at the core of "depressive episodes" not only for those with diagnosed mental illnesses but for everyone and it's probably right to state that in general, it's responsible for most if not all psychological suffering.

It seems to me that this is what Buddhists mean by stating that ignorance is the cause of suffering - your knowledge (and I'm not talking about intellectual knowledge, although it might play a significant part also) is not deep or full enough and therefore you don't feel grounded and confident at the core of your being and this keeps resurfacing from your subconscious manifesting as emotional "pits". A way out of this seems to be by turning your interest to existential questions and seeking to know the truth by whatever means possible. Usually, those means turn to be various spiritual practices, but not necessarily.

But there are different approaches, one of them, which I’m interested in is scientific-technological or something in between that and spiritual-psychological one. You may try to find objective reasons behind your negative emotions and this sometimes may be the best approach, but you might look at it the other way around too – that emotions themselves are the primary cause of how you perceive and in the end create your circumstances.

And really when you feel good “bad things” happening to you don’t seem so (if at all) bad anymore and when you feel down even the most benign and peaceful circumstances may appear irritating. So your own emotional energy seems to be responsible for this. In this approach, the best way is to try to influence your emotions directly rather than digging for reasons and trying to influence your circumstances. When you are in a good emotional state you can also think more clearly and real reasons and effective methods to deal with things will more likely come to you then.

So in this approach “the system” to directly and effectively influence your mood is a very helpful thing to develop. But I personally don’t have in mind a rational step-by-step system, I envision it as either technological or a self-help one, but in the latter case it would be to more develop your intuition and creativity and learn to adapt something suitable for each different situation rather than clinging to the same methods/habits, it should be something quite the opposite – trying to break out of those each time:)

My personal ways of coping: balance acceptance and distraction

Nivari Van der Voorde
Nivari Van der Voorde Nov 11, 2020

For me, this is really finding a balance between acceptance and distraction. So partly I want to accept the feelings and make sure that I am not suppressing anything (because this will come up as a pop up surprise later I believe).
But in the past, I was also able to drown in negative emotions and thoughts for some time. Now I acknowledge the fact that I'm sad or down, analyze a bit on that and let it be. But then I also really try to distract myself and flick out of this mood. I feel that by being in another mood or environment, it is easier to reflect on the sadness or the event that made me down.

Ways of flicking out of a down mood:
- Taking a walk, a good way of being both active and relaxed and taking in new impressions. For me this works both in nature and in the city as well.
- Taking a shower, feeling refreshed gives me the feeling that I am able to approach things in a fresh way as well.
- Sports, preferably with an external responsibility. So, attending a group class, or doing sports in social context. Sometimes I am feeling very tired and low on energy, but I established the commitment to go to sports earlier, so I obviously go. Afterwards I feel so incredibly energized, happy and clear in my head.
- Coffee. Elevates the mood by serotonin, but even the placebo effect of this works for me I think.
- Cryotherapy. There are studies researching the therapy as a treatment to depression. But I surely feel energized and elevated right after a cryo session. This can be in a cabin (there are cryotherapy studios where you go in a cell with -110 C), but you can also simply have a cold shower or a dip in a cold lake or the sea.

[1]Johanna M. Gostner & all, Coffee Extracts Suppress Tryptophan Breakdown in Mitogen-Stimulated Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2015

[2]Joanna Rymaszewska & all, Whole-body cryotherapy – promising add-on treatment of depressive disorders, psychiatria Polska, 2019

Povilas S
Povilas S7 months ago
Same here. In the past, I tried mostly to feel the emotions all the way through, as long as they lasted, but this has a downside that you start lingering on them and attract more negative thoughts and get stuck in a cycle, so it's important to do whatever you can, actively, to try to get out of the negative mood at the same time not suppressing or pushing away the negative feelings while they're still there. Although this balance is hard to maintain. You might bend a bit towards one side or the other. When I'm active I tend to suppress negative emotions a bit, and when I feel like I'm tired of everything and just giving up then I feel more, but at the same time find excuses for laziness and negative thoughts. So this "cycle" in life kind of goes back and forth to keep you in balance I guess:)
Nivari Van der Voorde
Nivari Van der Voorde7 months ago
Povilas S Yes, very recognizable. I had a period where I forced myself to be content with no distractions at all, trying to find peace within. I even thought that working was a way of distraction, which it actually is, but that is not a negative thing necessarily.

Anyway, now I see things differently. I do believe it is in our nature to progress and that we feel fulfilled if we experience this progression. But also connection and inspiration are ingredients, for me at least, to feel happy. I made a 'model' on this, with ingredients of aspects in life that I need to maintain to keep feeling good. Maybe worth sharing.

Povilas S
Povilas S7 months ago
Nivari Van der Voorde Yes, of course, if you don't mind:) I catch myself working on the same model sometimes, but can't say I've finished it. It's probably very unique for each individual, but still worth sharing I think, cause others might find effective elements to place in their models:)

The feelgood neurotransmitters Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin and Endorphins

Darko Savic
Darko Savic Oct 08, 2020
The key to elevating one's mood is the stimulation/release of either of these neurotransmitters :
  • Dopamine - motivation to go after something
  • Serotonin - the feeling of superiority over someone
  • Oxytocin - the feeling of bonding with someone
  • Endorphins - natural soothing after experiencing pain or stress
The trick is to figure out how to get your brain to release either of these. For example, my contribution to this session describes how I keep an endless supply of dopamine within reach.

A relatively easy way to get endorphins flowing is to do hard training. So if you are out of ideas and need a quick fix, a heavy workout is your friend.

For oxytocin, see your partner, child, best friend, parents, and spend some high-quality time with them.

Serotonin is a bit tricky. What are you good at? Provide high-quality help to someone who needs it.

For a release of Dopamine you would need to come up with an idea that you can work on. By work I mean either start putting it into action or start improving it, come up with strategies that will enable you to succeed, etc.

[1]Happy Brain Chemicals by Loretta Breuning https://youtu.be/ldPuBk7a9V4

Povilas S
Povilas S9 months ago
There's a good article proposing a model to explain all emotions by different concentrations of 3 main monoamine neurotransmitters in the brain: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51863789_A_new_three-dimensional_model_for_emotions_and_monoamine_neurotransmitters. Apart from dopamine and serotonin there's also nor-adrenaline. The model is simplified and many neurotransmitters (including a couple which you mentioned) are left out, but the arguments presented for those three being the main ones involved are quite convincing and the model is nicely visualized as a cube with each neurotransmitter concentration being its composing vector. Excitement is presented as an emotion felt when concentrations of all three are the highest, and really - excitement seems to be life-driving emotion.
Darko Savic
Darko Savic9 months ago
Was it this? https://i0.wp.com/www.anxietyhack.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/DOPAMINE.png
Povilas S
Povilas S8 months ago
Yes, that's it. It's either derived from the same article or the theory developed since.. Do you have some background info to read about it? Where it was originally taken from? I can't find anything on that anxiety page..

Bad mood as a comprehension booster

Juran Sep 21, 2020
The most beautiful, emotionally supreme, and empowering songs, paintings, or writings of all time were not created in times of great happiness. Positive mood is usually related to safe non-challenging environments after the hard work is done, or a tricky situation gone right, and thus, is considered as a state of less engaged sensory and cognitive functions. On the other hand, a bad mood is experimentally shown to have multiple benefitial effects. Studies have shown that bad mood caused by weather increased memory and the motivation of the examinees. Some of them shown to have increased intellectual performance in decision-making, judgment, argumentation, communication, and fairness [1]. Both things considered, short periods of bad mood seem beneficial enough to consider not fighting against them, but using them to understand our emotions more rationally and brainstorm more efficiently. [1] https://theconversation.com/why-bad-moods-are-good-for-you-the-surprising-benefits-of-sadness-75402
Povilas S
Povilas S9 months ago
I think that the argument of most valuable art being created out of suffering is a meme-like myth or at least a misconception. There are countless examples of positive songs, paintings, movies, etc., that have been created out of good emotions and that are of great value both subjectively and objectively (if we can talk about objectivity in valuing art at all). I agree that negative experiences might be necessary to bring a certain depth to life or catharsis and revelation that comes after them, but that catharsis and revelation is already a positive emotion and beautiful things are then born out of it. So it's the transformation of negativity into positivity that brings the merits rather than negativity itself. Or it might be a wish to bring a change to negativity, like making the world a better place, etc. The important question here I think is if it's possible to maintain happiness more constantly without experiencing negativity or are the two inseparable from one another like yin and yang? It's also not quite true that positive mood is experienced mostly in safe-non challenging environments. That's more comfort and security, but it's just the passive aspects of positive mood. Safe non-challenging environments might just be very boring and give a lazy feel. People engage in extreme sports and all kinds of intentionally challenging experiences to get a boost of hormones. In fact if life is not at all challenging it's not a very fulfilling life. It's hard to believe that negative mood could increase motivation and performance, would be interesting to see the actual publications. There's an inverse proportion between the two - dopamine regulates motivation, when its levels drop, we feel bad, when we feel good - we are up for many things. Once again, this might be because of the contrast of things, like "the weather is bad, I'm going to take the opportunity to study", so this is already a shift in mood and motivation, but if you're in an ongoing down mood and would sit down to study, the results wouldn't be very good.
Juran9 months ago
Maybe my thought was misunderstood and I apologize. I wanted to introduce the usefulness of a bad mood. Of course, there are plenty of masterpieces that have been created out of good emotions, but we both agree that the negative experiences are "the downs" we sometimes need. There is no catharsis without negative feelings. Considering the other argument on safe non-challenging environments, I could use your strategy now. Maybe people engage in extreme sports and challenging experiences to change their safe and non-dangerous routine life to something riskier, just so they could have "the comeback" you mentioned - mood boost. Referring to your "ying-yang question", I believe the nature functions in the circular form here, too, but there is still plenty of unanswered questions.
Povilas S
Povilas S9 months ago
In a nutshell - there is no catharsis without negative feelings, but you don't need catharsis when you feel good anyway. Catharsis is a kind of remedy transforming negative feelings into positive, emotional healing process, so it might be considered a mood lifter on its own. About the other thing - there's a difference when people engage in challenging activities out of free will and when they can't or don't know how to get out of negative emotions. In the latter case, some form of remedy or technique would be very useful. Emotions induced by challenging activities are usually not negative, they are more exciting unless you are pushed into that against your own will. When creating this session I had in mind more low energy emotions like lingering sadness, self-pity, laziness, depression, apathy, etc., rather than stress. A bit of stress sometimes might be useful to get out of those, so it might serve as a mood-lifting key. We cycle through shorter or longer periods of those low-energy emotions almost every day and I don't see how they serve us in any beneficial way. At least this doesn't serve me and I would like to eliminate that, but it's a rather slow process of self-development. I know it might sound unnatural to always feel good, but I'm not talking about not being able to experience anything else, like sadness or grief, I'm more talking about that how you feel would be your own choice.

Do we need to really 'elevate' the mood?

Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain Sep 21, 2020
I might sound counterintuitive, but I take a different route to reclaim my normal psyche when I am down. First, mindfulness. Rather than just seeking this or that way to lift my mood up, I dwell on the sadness/downness for a while. If I am feeling that much low, there MUST be something really bothering me. I first need to go to the roots of the problem and then only I can think about solving it. For this, my daily practice of mindfulness comes in really handy. I basically sit myself down and watch my own thoughts and the bodily sensations brought about by them. When I do so for half an hour or so, the feeling itself loses its grip and starts to subside. When I reclaim my calm like this, I finally try to see the problem objectively. What in the first place brought my mood down? Was it a financial problem? Was it psychological? Emotional? Did I really have to get this sad? Or was I just being hyper-reactive to a situation that was in no way under my control? (See, a bit of Stoicism is always healthy). This kind of contemplation usually brings some spontaneous solution. Second: Equanimity Usually, to become in one occasion deeply sad is parallel (at least logically) to become excitingly happy on the other. I try to remain as equanimous to all sorts of feelings as possible. This saves me from a lot of stress and anxiety. Once we learn to remain equanimous to both the pleasant and unpleasant feelings and just observe them as the produce of our bodily minds, it becomes a lot easier to enjoy life and keep afloat the pool of misery that the world is. Third: actions, even the smallest kinds. If nothing brings me back to my light, I walk. Or I cook. Or call a family or a friend and share my plight. If I cannot even do these, I try to pen down my thoughts, or I try to sing and play the guitar. These sorts of activities seem trivial in normal outlook but I have found them immensely helpful in positively modulating my thoughts and bring me back to my senses. I have talked about mindfulness in this session.

Mood oriented search engine

Povilas S
Povilas S Sep 21, 2020
What I realized after analyzing myself and trying to improve my mood by different means is that finding a thing that fits specific moment is the key. There’s no general thing or selection of things that will work for each situation, the wider selection you have, the better, but even the widest selection won’t help if you don’t know how to find the right element for the right time. To illustrate this let’s take a simple example of common mood remedy – music. Think of how many songs are there in the world. Each one is different and therefore induces different emotions. Even similar songs from the same artist would affect you slightly differently. There’s more than enough songs to positively influence your mood (or to put it simply - the ones you’d like) at any given moment. But the hard thing is – how to match the right song with the right moment. Well, you could say Spotify and Youtube do this, but the fact is – it’s far from that. Algorithms can recommend you content based on what you liked/listen to/watched before and this helps, but they are not specifically targeting your current emotional state with the aim to improve it. That kind of technology would need to be much more sophisticated and highly personalized, to be able to first evaluate your current state and then find a specific element or set of elements that would produce desirable outcome, or even make it in real-time, like write music depending on the change in your emotions. This is not only true with music but with anything – images, tastes, smells, thoughts, etc. The same image can’t always cheer you up, just like the same song. Even drugs, that seem to affect mood very directly don’t affect all people in the same way and even the same person could be affected very differently depending on the set and setting. I see two ways in which this kind of super personalization could be achieved – one is AI-assisted technology and another is through personal efforts by training your mind to remember large sets of elements (mental playlists) and learning to find an element that would uplift your current emotional state. Just by trying this skill could be developed. In fact you don’t necessarily need physical elements to remember and play with, thoughts can be enough to kick-start your mood, you just need to learn to pick the right ones.

What makes you happy?

Muhammad M Rahman
Muhammad M Rahman Feb 19, 2021
There is a biological component whereby you can try and balance the levels of neurotransmitters and I would also say that one aspect is to stay healthy. By this I mean a diet that includes foods that give you energy and to exercise to improve stamina, not thinking about aesthetics. When you feel good physically you will find yourself more capable to perform in both physical and mental tasks, certainly sleep is an important factor.

The psychological component is linked to the survival component. To survive, our biological needs have to be met which is food and shelter so if that is secure then the basic layer of good mood is satisfied. You then have the additional layers that will elevate mood such as companionships and relationships then deeper feelings of belonging, having aspirations and so on. Biological satisfaction is something that can be achieved with a much lower level of effort compared to achieving psychological satisfaction because there are many variables that will feed into this goal. It is possible to tick a lot of the boxes like food, shelter, family, job satisfaction etc. but people can still have very low mood.

So what makes you happy to elevate your mood? This is a personal process that everyone will have different responses to but it is my response to stress that defines my mood. If I am physically unwell with a muscle strain for example, I knowledge that I can exercise and get back in shape as I have a degree of control which gives me optimism. If I am facing mental pressure, I know that certain aspects I can change and at the same time I must acknowledge that certain factors are out of my control. This is a fundamental route for psychologists to get their patients with low mood to cope better, to be able to manage the aspects that can be controlled and acknowledge what cannot. I think this is the key to elevating mood, the ability to cope with stress or moments and understand that we can satisfy most biological and some psychological needs.

It's quite a personal experience for everyone.

Jamila Sep 22, 2020
When I'm feeling down I just let myself experience the sadness for a while. I like to ruminate over the issue which is bothering me. After that, my friends and family usually notice and I talk to them if I need to. Personally, talking to friends and family about my mood really helps a lot. I'm not the type of person that can be sad for too long, I'll get over the issue and return to my normal self quite quickly! I think everyone deals with their emotions differently but we might have some shared ways to elevate our mood. :)


Povilas S
Povilas S Dec 10, 2020
Feelings are an inseparable part of the imagination process and in most cases, they are the very thing that drives it. Unless it's required to do necessary tasks, imagination is usually spontaneous and, one might say, involuntary - we often catch ourselves daydreaming without recalling conscious decision to do it. But since imagination can also be evoked consciously and because it's so closely linked with emotions, it can be used as a tool to influence the latter.

When aiming to positively influence your mood, instead of imagining particular things or circumstances of your dreams I'd suggest paying more attention to your feelings rather than what you visualize. What you visualize doesn't matter as long as it works as a trigger invoking good feelings. Imagining something weird or random sometimes might work better than imagining something you've always dreamed of. Why? Because mood and emotions are always changing and one trigger won't work for all situations, hence you have to adapt the trigger to the emotional status quo. Just like abstract painting where it's hard to interpret what you are seeing or a rather random combination of colors might make you feel good, so can various unconventional products of your own imagination. Being sensitive to your momentary emotional state you'll learn how subtle changes in what you are imagining affect it and thus you'll become better at influencing feelings through imagination.

While visualizing certain things might work as a trigger jump-starting positive mood, it's also possible to feel into certain emotional states directly by imagining (remembering) times when you felt that way. By asking yourself "how would I want to feel?" you'll be able to evoke memories of certain feelings. In fact, being able to "imagineer" feelings directly rather than evoking them through images should be the final aim of such practice. By practicing you should sooner or later be able to drop the image (be it an actual memory or a fictional creation) standing as a mediator between conscious choice and the feeling which it tries to evoke and go straight into that feeling thus being able to consciously choose your emotional state. Is there a difference between imagining a feeling and feeling it?

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