Marc Brackett, Ph.D., psychologist and best-selling author of Permission to Feel, is the guest speaker for Forty Carrots Family Center’s 18th annual free Educational Community Speaker Event. This year’s event transitions to a virtual platform, broadcasting on Wednesday, September 23, 2020 starting at 7pm. Dr. Brackett is a research psychologist and the founding director at Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and professor in the Child Study Center at Yale University. He has developed a process for understanding emotions and using them wisely to help, rather than hinder, all people, children and adults in achieving goals and success. SRQ Magazine Publisher Wes Roberts interviewed Dr. Brackett about the ideas presented in his book. 

SRQ:  Emotional intelligence. How is it more than an academic concept?

Marc Brackett: How we feel matters. It matters for everything in life; our ability to learn, the quality of our decisions, the quality of our relationships, our mental and physical health, our creativity, and our everyday performance. When people understand the intersection between our emotion system and our other systems, then it’s hard not to take this work seriously. We defined emotional intelligence as a set of skills that involve recognizing our own and others’ emotions, understanding their causes and consequences, labeling them with the precise words, knowing how and when to express feelings, and then regulating them effectively to achieve goals.

In Permission to Feel, you offer a goal to the reader, to help people use their emotions in healthy and productive ways. How do you do that successfully? So, the opposite is allowing emotions to have power over us. Right now, there’s a lot of anxiety in the world. You could engage in catastrophic thinking for days on end. It’s easy to do that. So the question is, what kind of self-care do you need so that you do not allow the anxiety to overpower you? We teach people how to engage in more positive self-talk, get the social support they need and manage their lives more smartly. It’s not that they deny themselves that feeling of anxiety, but learn how to manage it so it doesn’t interfere with everyday life.

When you write about achieving personal goals by harnessing your emotions, especially negative emotions, it caused me to ask myself, “How do our individual goals influence the directions we head in as a society?”  We need to shift our mindsets as a nation around the way we see anxiety and other so-called negative emotions. We must accept the fact that, yes, there are people who are going to have mental health challenges. Yes. Anxiety is real. The policies, workplace policies, school policies and everyday practices have to align with the principles of emotional intelligence. If you are doing the emotional work, and no one else is doing the work, we won’t get the outcomes we want. 

In your book, you write about how the support people in a child’s life have to model emotional skills which means that parents and teachers might have to change how they behave. do you get pushback from that?  All the time. Adults, we’re very set in our ways. We want to confirm our own ways of believing and doing, and then this neurotic professor comes in and with these ideas about emotional intelligence, and they’re like, “What do you mean I’ve got to change the way I behave? You don’t think I’m a good role model for healthy emotion regulation?” I’m not saying that. I’m asking you to think about this and see ways to enhance your skills. The good news is that people’s mindsets around this work are shifting and that people are starting to recognize how important these skills are.

How will the impact of the pandemic on kids, parents and society echo into the future?  I think we have to take this stuff seriously right now because it is a hard time. One thing we say is that, “When life is good, nobody cares about emotional intelligence,” you know, if you’ve got a good job, your kids are healthy, you’re healthy, you’re on vacation, whatever it might be, they don’t think about it because life is good. But, you know, when you’re on the beach and someone kicks sand in your face, that’s when you need these skills. Especially when we’re activated when we’re triggered. And right now, I think everyone is triggered. This is when we have to really apply the skills of emotional intelligence to achieve our goals.


There are many famous people who have achieved great things in society, let’s say Thomas Edison or Steve Jobs, who were famously sort of tyrants to those around them. We hear about people who weren’t happy and made people around them unhappy, but whose energy changed the world. Does society need at least a smattering of such people to push for big things?   That’s a good question. The question is, “What is success?” right? If it’s only making a lot of money and being a famous CEO of a company, then yeah, you probably can get away with it because bullies can be very successful. They bulldoze their way to the top. The problem is,  people who are like that often die very lonely because nobody wants to be around them—the way we make people feel drives how they treat us. Imagine how much more creative other people could have been at Apple had Steve Jobs been more supportive of other people’s ideas. Imagine how much time people are spending not thinking creatively or innovatively when they’re thinking, “I hate this guy, he’s so mean and cruel.” When people of lower emotional intelligence are your manager, it just doesn’t make work fun and enjoyable. And so, what we know is that how we feel in the workplace drives our creativity, drives our performance. 

You address how you want educators and parents to match their approach to the specific needs of a given child, not demand that the child fit into a prescribed mold. It sounded much like the “follow the child” concept at the core of Montessori teaching. Do you have educational approaches that you champion or that have influenced you?  I think Montessori education is great. Those methods are fabulous, because they’re student-centered. Of course, especially in education, everybody thinks their method is the best. Students learn in different ways. The most important thing in learning is relationships. I grew up in a suburban town in New Jersey. The education system was not great, I was bored a lot, I was bullied a lot. And now, I am a professor at a pretty good place. So, you know, I made it, objectively, I did okay. Academically, the ride wasn’t pretty. It was my path, and it was a difficult path. It’s important for parents to recognize that every child has their own path and some people are going to do well early in life, and some people, well, it’s going to take time, so don’t be the judge, right? Be the compassionate supporter. It means that, for example, during these challenging pandemic times, if you get a few weeks or a few months of delays, it’s not the end of the world. We can catch up. We tend to overdramatize things around education. Sure, some kids need special treatment. But for most children, you know, “typical learners,” people fall into this craziness that “this literacy program is best” or “this math program is best,” and that’s nuts to me. I can do math just fine, and whatever program I had 40 years ago in my little suburban New Jersey elementary school was sufficient for me to count my change at the grocery store and do statistics. We’ve gone crazy around, “Everything’s gotta be the best,” and that’s just ridiculous. Instead, help kids find passion, and great things will happen. And so that, to me, should be the goal of education: to support children in finding love of learning and curiosity.  SRQ

Register for the 18th annual Forty Carrots Free Community Speaker Event: September 23, 2020 from 7pm to 8:30pm. Featuring Marc Brackett, Ph.D. Director, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Professor, Yale Child Study Center. Complimentary e-book available to attendees who register, limited supply.