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How do we navigate
the changes ahead?
How do we navigate
the changes ahead?
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James Gross, Emotions & Emotion Regulation


Emotions & Emotion Regulation

James Gross


James Gross is a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, where he directs the Psychophysiology Laboratory. He has received numerous awards for his research in emotion regulation, including Stanford’s highest teaching award. James is founding President for the Society for Affective Science, Co-Editor-in-Chief of Affective Science, and a Fellow in the American Psychological Association. 

Transcription of the video


Which domain or aspect of social life will show the most significant positive societal and/or psychological change in response to the pandemic?

One of the things that pandemic has done is to really shake up our patterns of work, social interaction, and leisure. Often, these are painful and difficult changes. But out of this chaos, and this alteration in our habitual modes of existence, and in these different domains, I think there are opportunities for really re-evaluating what gives us joy and meaning in our lives. And if we are able to take stock in what we’ve found has changed, that’s actually led to greater sense of meaning and joy, I think there’s opportunity for gain at the individual level. At a societal level, too, I think there are opportunities for benefit. In one place that we might see benefit, or something positive coming from this very difficult time is an appreciation, greater appreciation of the need for collaboration at transnational levels. This has always been a tension between the national and the transnational ever since the innovation of the nation state. And it’s been very difficult for us to remember the importance of collaborative activity across nations and across cultures. And I think this is an opportunity to see that there are threats, many threats that we face as a species that really are best addressed at this collective level.

What kind of wisdom will people need to capitalize on the positive societal and/or psychological change after the pandemic?

At the level of the individual, in and amidst the pain and difficulty of disruption, I think we need the wisdom to find the places where our behavior pattern changes have actually led to increase pleasure and joy and contact and meaning of what sources are of great value to us. And it’s difficult, because I think we, as we live our lives, have many ideas or models for the kind of life we must lead or should lead. And I think having the wisdom to have a fresh perspective, and to attend to places where our long-standing images of how our lives should be led, or really at variance with what is giving us joy and pleasure and meaning. I think that if we can have that wisdom, we can build new patterns of living, that will be more satisfying for many more of us. At the level of the society, I think the wisdom that we’ll need for capitalizing on this positive change potential is really just working against the many forces that push decision-making and power to the national level. So, I think, resisting those forces and maintaining a long-term view of the importance of transnational collaboration will be crucial.

Which domain or aspect of social life will show the most significant negative societal and/or psychological change in response to the pandemic?

I think the unifying theme there is probably the growing inequity. We are, as is well understood, are experiencing growing inequity in distribution of resources, across nations and cultures, and certainly within any given nation. And that represents, I think, a tremendous source of suffering, because so much of our sense of wellbeing derives from a comparison of how we’re doing to how others are doing. And the greater the inequity, the greater the suffering.

What kind of wisdom will people need to master to overcome major negative societal and/or psychological changes after the pandemic?

We’re looking to have individual and societal level structures that can support and sustain efforts to increase equity. And this is the classic trade off – intertemporal choice between short term apparent gain and long term much larger gain. And I think structures and practices that support a longer-term perspective with the appreciation of the greater equity will bring greater happiness for all of us are really going to be necessary to overcome this negative societal change.

What piece of wisdom do people need to make it through the pandemic?

One of the places it’s important to focus on is the emotions that we each have, as we encounter changes in our lives, loss for many of us, of health, even of life of loved ones. Certainly, loss of things that we care about. Sometimes you’re replaceable, lost years of school, lost years of training, lost years or childhood, lost years of interaction with others. And I think being aware of those losses, is an important step to understanding that these negative emotions that are rightly generated are not destiny. We can, in fact, find ways to manage or regulate our emotions in productive ways, decreasing negative emotions through attentional practices and forms of cognitive regulation. And we can also increase positive emotions by finding joy and meaning in our interactions with others and in our pursuit of highly valued goals.
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