This Emotional Life
NOVA/WGBH Science Unit and Vulcan Productions, Inc., 2010
iTunes ($4.99); DVD ($34.99)
You might want to think of yourself as a rational person, but when it comes to your emotions, you’re pretty powerless. The amygdala—the ancient brain region that controls how you feel—has numerous pathways through which it influences the brain’s decision-making area, the prefrontal cortex. The cortex, on the other hand, has virtually no influence on the amygdala—connections in that direction simply do not exist. The result: we are, in essence, slaves to our emotions.
It is this emotional vulnerability that makes our lives and relationships as rich and colorful as they are, according to the PBS television series This Emotional Life, hosted by Harvard University social psychologist Daniel Gilbert. The show, which first aired January 4–6 and can now be purchased via iTunes or on DVD, explores in three episodes how our emotions shape our relationships, our fears and our happiness.
This Emotional Life focuses on the gripping stories of Americans who have fallen victim to their emotions. We meet a family ripped apart by school bullying and another struggling to understand why their adopted son has so many attachment problems. We learn what it is like to grow up with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism associated with difficulty expressing emotions and forming social bonds. We also discover why it is so difficult to correctly predict what will make us happy and why love is both so important to us and yet so difficult to master. “In many ways, navigating the social world is more complicated than a voyage to the moon,” Gilbert says. “But it’s a journey we have to take, because whether we like it or not, our happiness is in each other’s hands.”
This Emotional Life is an emotional experience in itself. If you are anything like me, you will find yourself holding back tears more than once and feeling strong connections to the people you are watching. But the fact that the show draws you in so deeply simply proves its point: our emotions frequently get the best of us. But you know what? That’s okay.