Book Review: Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett

How are you feeling? That question starts most of the chapters of this book and is at the very core of what this book is about, which is learning to recognize, express and regulate our feelings and to some degree the feelings of the people around us.  

I first heard about this book last spring when Brené Brown interviewed the author Marc Brackett on her podcast.  As I listened to the podcast, I just kept thinking to myself how much I wished I had read this book when I was still teaching.   As I was reading this book this past month, I kept thinking to myself how much I wished I read this book while I was still teaching and wondering which one of my former co-workers, I was going to loan the book to first. This book would also be wonderful for parents. So, if you are a parent and a teacher you need to stop reading this and just go get the book immediately.  For anyone out there that is not a parent or a teacher this book is definitely still worth reading if you are interested in the importance of understanding our emotions. 

Marc Brackett is the Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and he and his uncle developed the RULER program which is an evidence-based approach to social and emotional learning. Much of the book focuses on the 5 skills of emotional intelligence that the RULER program teaches.  The book starts though with why it is important to give ourselves permission to feel.  The idea of emotional intelligence has only been around for the past 25-30 years. In my experience as an educator, it has only been the past 10-15 years that as teachers we really began to understand the importance of understanding the why behind our student’s behaviors and learning how to help our students understand their emotions is very much still a work in progress for educators. 

How are you feeling? Before we can dig into the skills of emotional intelligence, we must first learn to become emotion scientists.  I found this concept one of the best ones in the book.  The idea of being an emotion scientist versus an emotion judge.  An emotion scientist is open and curious and wants to investigate.  An emotion judge is closed. They are knowers and they want to assign attributes. We need to all strive to be emotion scientists and have a growth mindset when it comes to emotions.  

The RULER program is designed to teach 5 skills of emotional intelligence.

  1. Recognizing emotions in self and others.
  2. Understanding the causes and consequences or emotions.
  3. Labeling emotions accurately.
  4. Expressing emotions appropriately.
  5. Regulating emotions effectively.

All of these skills are actually complicated and difficult to master. The book gives a good overview of each skill and discusses strategies to help you get started on your journey as an emotion scientist. For recognizing and labeling the book includes a mood meter. The mood meter is a grid with 100 words that one could use to describe how they are feeling. The grid is color coded and the words are arranged on an axis of high energy to low energy and low pleasantness to high pleasantness.  For example, “excited” is in the middle of the yellow square. It is a high energy, high pleasantness feeling. As opposed to lonely which is in the middle of the blue square and it is a low energy low pleasantness feeling. Just seeing this list of feeling words reminds us that there are so many more emotions than our go to happy, sad, fine words. After the overview of the RULER skills the book ends with chapters that discuss applying these skills at home, at school and at work. Brackett writes the book in a way that is easy to read and he interjects a lot of personal stories in his writing.

How are you feeling? I know that I was drawn to this book because as a teacher it seemed that each year, I saw more and more students dealing with trauma. Helping them learn to deal with their emotions was so key to their success not only in school but in life in general. It was also really important for me to be able to see past certain behaviors as just bad behaviors. Understanding the cause of those behaviors helped me to be a better teacher. I really like the idea that if we begin to teach our children at school or at home, more about their emotions, how to recognize, understand, label, express and regulate them, then in another 10-15 years the idea of emotional intelligence won’t be new, or novel and people will understand that taking care of our mental health is just as important as taking care of our physical health. As Brackett states in the book, the science of emotional intelligence is just as important as any other science a person might study.

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