Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett

Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett

Permission to Feel summary

Feelings are confusing and leave us vulnerable, causing us to suppress the most painful emotions. But suppressing unpleasant emotions distracts us from pleasant feelings, leaving us emotionally barren. Enjoying life and living fully entails feeling emotions and letting them move through us organically without resistance.

Permission to Feel notes & quotes

Here are my notes and quotes on Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett. My notes are casual and include what I believe are the essential concepts, ideas, and insights from the book, along with direct quotes from the author.

  • “Our true feelings can be messy, inconvenient, confusing, even addictive.”
  • “They leave us vulnerable, exposed, naked to the world.”
  • “They make us do things we wish we hadn’t done.”
  • They scare us because they seem out of our control.
  • No wonder we often deny or hide our feelings—even from ourselves.
  • Denying our feelings causes us to go numb inside and lose touch with emotion.
  • Unless we can recognize, understand, and put into words what we feel, we react to our feelings rather than work with them constructively.
  • Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 25 percent of children thirteen to eighteen years old.
  • “Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.”
  • Feeling feelings is a life-changing skill anyone can learn at any age with clear, simple, and tested tools.

Permission to Feel

  • Learning to identify, express, and harness our feelings, even the most challenging ones, can help us create positive, satisfying lives.
  • When asked to identify feelings, three-quarters of respondents have difficulty coming up with a “feeling” word.
Hiding our vulnerability is natural, an attempt at self-preservation.
  • Our emotional state is one of the most critical aspects of our lives.
  • Powerful emotions build like a dark force poisoning our lives.
  • “Hurt feelings don’t vanish on their own. They don’t heal themselves. If we don’t express our emotions, they pile up like a debt that will eventually come due.”
  • To make future positive choices, we need to know what will bring us happiness and why.
  • The three most common words used to describe teens’ feelings: are “tired,” “bored,” and “stressed.”
  • Over 50 percent of college students experience overwhelming anxiety and a third report intense depression.
  • The three most common words used to describe educators’ feelings: are “frustrated,” “overwhelmed,” and “stressed.”
  • “If we don’t understand emotions and find strategies to deal with them, they will take over our lives…”
  • Peter Salovey and Jack Mayer first coined the term “emotional intelligence.”
  • Feelings are simply information, not truth.
  • We need to determine what they’re telling us to make the most informed decisions.
  • We are not born with the skill to understand what we are feeling and why; it is a learned skill.

Emotions Are Information

  • Our senses bring information from our bodies, minds, and the outside world. Our brains then process and interpret the information as a feeling.
  • Historically, emotions were seen as obstacles to sound judgment and rational thought, even among the Stoic philosophers.
  • That changed with researchers discovering that feelings and emotions are rich and valuable internal information sources.
  • Emotions foster reasoning and complex problem solving when used wisely.
  • Emotions give purpose, priority, and focus to our thinking and motivate us to act.
  • Psychologists hypothesized that a “cognitive loop” connects mood to judgment.
  • For example, if we’re in a good mood, we are more likely to have positive thoughts and memories, which keep us thinking positively (the loop).
  • Intrapersonal skills: “Awareness of one’s own strengths and weaknesses.”
  • Interpersonal skills: “The ability to communicate effectively and empathize with others.”
  • Emotions help ensure our survival and make us smarter.
  • Emotions affect us if five ways:
  • Where we direct our attention, what we remember, and what we learn
  • Strong emotions affect our perceptions and largely influence our actions.
  • Emotions affect our interpretation of social situations and how we respond.
  • Emotions release chemicals that have a powerful positive or negative effect on our well-being.
  • Emotions affect our creativity, effectiveness, and performance.
  • “Emotions determine what you care about in the moment.”
  • Strong, negative emotions narrow our thinking and inhibit the prefrontal cortex’s ability to process information.
  • Moderate stress levels like being challenged enhance focus and productivity, yet chronic stress is toxic.
  • “The research is clear: emotions determine whether academic content will be processed deeply and remembered."
  • Different emotions serve different purposes for learning. For example, excitement stimulates lots of ideas.
  • Sadness makes us more likely to blame external circumstances.
    Anger makes us more optimistic than sadness, perhaps because anger gives us a greater sense of control.
  • Exercise: Think about everyone you encounter in your daily life. What is your instant, top-of-mind answer to these questions: How do I feel when I meet each person?
  • How much do I look forward to seeing them? Do I smile at the thought of them? Do I feel natural, or do I feel tense at the prospect of seeing them?
  • In our daily interactions, we have one of two responses: approach or avoid.
  • “Relationships are the most important aspect of our lives. There’s plentiful scientific research showing the enormous influence they have on our well-being.”
  • “When we need emotional support most is when we’re least likely to receive it.”
  • “Emotional sickness is avoiding reality at any cost. Emotional health is facing reality at any cost.” - M. Scott Peck
  • Most of our feelings originate in our brains. Physiological reactions in our brains release chemicals that affect our health, impacting our emotional state.
  • “Stress leaves you in a fight-or-flight state in which your body turns off long-term building and repair projects. Memory and accuracy are impaired. You tire more easily, you become depressed, and reproduction gets downgraded.” - Robert Sapolsky (In other words, one casualty of stress is our sex drive.)
  • “Crying is soothing because it carries stress hormones out of our bodies.”
  • For many, the ratio of positive and negative emotions is out of balance. What’s your ratio?
  • Studies show that working on creative tasks increases positive emotions, autonomy, and a sense of flourishing the next day.

How to Become an Emotion Scientist

  • We’re most vulnerable to emotions when we’re least aware of them.
  • Decision-making has two emotional parts: integral and incidental.
  • Integral emotions are triggered by the activity at hand—fear before speaking in public or the pleasure of eating ice cream.
  • Incidental emotions are unrelated to the current activity—feeling angry while driving to work and thinking about our argument with our spouse. These feelings influence our thoughts, body, and behavior, usually without awareness.
  • Anxiety is the feeling that something important is beyond our control.
  • When we’re distressed, our minds search for what might be wrong in our lives to make sense of the distress.  
  • Emotional intelligence “restores balance to our thought processes; it prevents emotions from having undue influence over our actions, and it helps us to realize that we might be feeling a certain way for a reason.”
  • RULER is an acronym and framework for bringing intelligence to our emotions. R is for Recognize; U is for Understanding; L is for Labeling; E is for expressing; and R is for regulating.
  • Recognizing, Understanding, and Labeling help us identify and make sense of what we and others are feeling.
  • Expressing and Regulating tell us how we can manage our emotions for the best outcome.
  • We tend to think we’re better at labeling and understanding our feelings than we are.
  • Emotions are short-lived, include physiological reactions like blushing or chills and facial expressions, and mobilize us into action.
  • “A feeling is our internal response to an emotion.”
  • More than one emotion often exists at once, and we can even have emotions about emotions.
  • “A mood is more diffuse and less intense than an emotion or a feeling but longer lasting.”
  • Usually, we don’t know why we’re feeling something during a mood, but we are more certain when feeling an emotion.
  • Our decisions are primarily based on how we think our actions will make us feel.
  • But without understanding our emotions, we are terrible at predicting what will make us happy.
  • Well-being is less about objective events and more about how they are perceived, dealt with, and shared with others.
  • Success in life is largely a product of our emotional skills. [“It’s just exceptionally rare to find people with both IQ and EQ,” said Mark Zuckerberg about Sheryl Sandberg.]

R: Recognizing Emotion

  • Recognizing what we feel is the first step to becoming more emotionally intelligent.
  • But it’s not enough to recognize our feelings—we also need to notice them in others.
  • The Mood Meter is a tool for recognizing emotions based on their two core components: energy and pleasantness.
  • We make regular judgments about what others are feeling, but we’re often wrong.
  • Human faces express six “basic emotions”: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust.
  • “We are more likely to detect anger in men’s expressions of emotion but sadness in women’s."
  • We are intrinsically more aware of negative emotional information than positive.
  • “Attribution bias” is when we label others’ emotions based on our emotional state, as in “I’m not angry! You’re the angry one!”

U: Understanding Emotion

  • Understanding helps us to discover the one or more emotional states underlying our feelings.
  • Parents like to believe children’s emotional lives are simpler than adults, but it’s not true.
  • Guilt is judging ourselves and feeling remorse for doing something we did, usually something that feels wrong.
  • Jealousy is the fear of losing someone important to you to someone else.
  • Envy is wanting something—person, thing, position, reputation, etc.—that someone else has.
  • Joy feels pleasant and energetic and comes from a sense of getting what we want.
  • Contentment feels pleasant with low energy and comes from a sense of completeness (not wanting or needing anything).
  • Contentment is a state of psychological balance—cherishing the present moment—but not something we actively pursue.
  • The constant pursuit of happiness can be self-defeating: Growing research shows that the more we value happiness, the more likely we are to be disappointed.
  • Stress is when we feel too many demands and insufficient resources—time, physical, and mental energy.
  • Pressure is perceiving something at stake that is dependent on your performance.
  • We often fail to learn from emotions for the following reason: Focusing on the behavior rather than the cause of the behavior is like treating the symptom, not the disease. This is modifying behavior by force, not wisdom.
  • Simple questions to ask: What happened? How are you feeling? What do you think is causing you to feel that way?
  • Being an emotional scientist includes asking questions, listening to the answers, and trying to understand the cause of emotions.
  • “Until we understand the cause of emotion, we’ll never really be able to help ourselves, our kids, or our colleagues.
  • We cannot regulate our reactions until we know what we feel.
  • Miscommunication is usually caused by not seeing how others’ behavior is simply a signal or symptom of their emotions.

L: Labeling Emotion

  • “There are hundreds of words we could use to describe our feelings, but most of us use one or two: “fine” or “busy.”
  • Having an emotional vocabulary and being able to label emotions is fundamental to working with them intelligently.
  • The saying, “if you can name it, you can tame it,” is backed by neuroscience and brain-imaging research.
  • “The Labeling skill exists in that space between our understanding of what we feel and our ability to describe it accurately.”
  • Figures of speech like “down in the dumps” may be colorful, but they create distance between our feelings and our words.
  • Four benefits to Labeling: 1) organize and legitimizes our experiences, 2) help others meet our needs, 3) help us meet the needs of others 4) connect us to the rest of the world.
  • Negative emotions—anger, fear, sadness, and shame—tend to preoccupy our minds more and are felt more deeply than positive ones.
  • Feeling words are about 50% negative, 30% positive, and 20% neutral.
  • Nobody likes to dwell on unpleasant feelings—we want them to go away without having to feel them.
  • Research shows that children who accurately label feelings enjoy more positive social interactions, better learning, and fewer behavioral issues.
  • Research shows that labeling emotions reduces their intensity and enables us to regulate our response to intense emotions like loneliness, anger, and rage.
  • Alexithymia is difficulty recognizing and expressing emotions.
  • Research shows that the more granular our labeling of emotions, the less likely we are to freak out and abuse alcohol when under stress, and the more likely we find meaning in negative experiences.
  • Stress—a combination of anxiety, fear, and pressure—is what we feel when facing too many demands and fear that we may not be up to the task.
    “…anger is usually a response to unfair treatment or an injustice.”
  • Understanding our positive emotions may help us discover ways to extend them.
  • Labeling emotions short-circuit them before they turn into tears or tantrums.
  • “When you can understand and name your emotions, something magical happens.
  • When we don’t have the words for our feelings, we’re not just lacking descriptive flourish. We’re lacking authorship for our own lives.”

E: Expressing Emotion

  • Expressing emotions can be the scariest of the five steps of RULER.
  • Bottling up emotions can lead to self-doubt, low self-worth, and extreme loneliness.
  • Feelings like shame, jealousy, and anxiety are the hardest to express. Expressing positive emotions can be difficult, too.
  • People generally report positive emotions in public, but in private, they generally report negative ones.
  • Common concern: “I’m afraid once I open up about my feelings, I’ll never be able to close the floodgate.”
  • Emotional expression is the currency of relationships.
  • A newborn’s available expressions: interest, enjoyment, surprise, sadness/distress, anger, discomfort/pain, fear, disgust.
  • “At some level we find it oddly enabling when someone hides their unhappiness.”
  • Mental and physical health improves when feelings and thoughts are transformed into language.

R: Regulating Emotion

  • Emotion regulation is at the top of the RULER hierarchy and likely the most complex and challenging of the five skills.
  • Emotion regulation: “the process by which individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express these emotions.”
  • We all know emotionally immature people who either act out their emotions or suppress them to the point of being cold and numb.
  • “…doing something you enjoy is a very effective strategy for regulating negative emotions.”
  • “When we don’t eat properly, our mind doesn’t function properly.”
  • “Too little physical activity has a negative effect on our mental capacity and moods.”
  • “Poor quality or insufficient sleep has similar effects on our emotions.”

Emotions at Home

  • “There’s no greater measure of how we did as parents than the success of our kids in this [emotional regulation] regard.”
  • We’re not born with emotional knowledge; emotions and feelings are learned skills.
  • Research demonstrates that “children do best with demonstrative love and caring.”
  • Co-regulation: how we affect one another’s feelings.
  • Questions to help kids regulate emotions: “Is there another way to think about what happened?” “What could you do instead?” “What’s worked before when you’ve felt this way?”
  • “Once we’ve acknowledged the power of the past in our current emotional lives, we’re ready to begin dealing with the present.”
  • Extreme reactions to children’s behavior can alter children's brain structure over time.
  • Remember, the emotional triggers are inside us, not outside.
  • Parents must first learn to regulate their emotions before teaching children through example and active engagement.
  • “Children learn what they care about.”

Emotions at School: From Preschool to College

  • “The most effective educators recognize that social, emotional, and academic learning are intertwined.”
  • “ kids unmerited praise backfires and even decreases intrinsic motivation.”
  • Responses from children taught emotional skills:
  • “I learned that being vulnerable opens up wonderful opportunities for friendships and deeper connections.”
  • “I wish this class could continue as long as possible because I fear the peace that I feel will drift away…”
  • “Calm, serenity, focus, and overall happiness are all within my reach, so long as I interiorize the wisdom gathered from this workshop.”
  • “This class gave me a sense of waking up from a long dream.”

Emotions at Work

  • “…emotions are the most powerful force inside the workplace—as they are in every human endeavor.”
  • Work survey: 50% of workers used the words stressed, frustrated, or overwhelmed to describe work.
  • “No doubt emotional intelligence is more rare than book smarts, but my experience says it is actually more important in the making of a leader.” - Jack Welch
  • Results of having a supervisor with strong emotional skills: Inspiration, respect, and happiness were about 50 percent higher, and frustration, anger, and stress were 30 to 40 percent lower.
  • A bad boss has low emotional intelligence; a good boss has high emotional intelligence.
  • Employees are 3x as likely to feel inspired when a supervisor has high emotional intelligence.
  • “There are entire professions that count on the willingness of intelligent, educated people to endure high levels of stress and exhaustion in exchange for the big payday. At some point, most of them discover, no matter how much they were paid, it wasn’t worth the toll it took.”

Creating an Emotion Revolution

  • Developing emotional skills is a way of life.

Related Resources

Here is a list of resources, including authors, books, websites, podcasts, and concepts mentioned in Permission to Feel, which might be helpful for further learning.


  • Peter Salovey
  • Jack Mayer
  • Gordon Bower
  • Alice Isen
  • Howard Gardner
  • Robert Sternberg
  • Nancy Cantor
  • John Kihlstrom
  • Edward Thorndike
  • Alia Crum
  • Robert Sapolsky
  • Kyung Hee Kim
  • Dr. E. Paul Torrance
  • Zorana Ivcevic Pringle
  • Lisa Feldman Barrett
  • Tom Boyce
  • David Caruso
  • Sigal Barsade
  • Jeffrey Yip
  • Stephane Cote
  • James Russell
  • Paul Ekman
  • Dacher Keltner
  • Alexander Pope
  • Richard Lazarus
  • Matthew Lieberman
  • Anna Wierzbicka
  • Arlie Hochschild
  • Wallace Friesen
  • Jeanne Tsai
  • James Pennebaker
  • James Gross
  • Robin Stern
  • Ethan Kross
  • Jason Moser
  • John Gottman
  • Amy Halberstadt
  • Nancy Eisenberg
  • Jean Twenge
  • Mary Helen Immordino-Yang
  • Edward Ziegler
  • Emma Seppälä
  • Dena Simmons
  • Sigal Barsade
  • Jochen Menges
  • Benjamin Schneider
  • Stéphane Côté
  • Olivia O’Neill
  • Susan David


  • Grit by Angela Duckworth
  • Mindset by Carol Dweck
  • The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals by Charles Darwin
  • Emotional Agility by Susan David


  • HopeLab's Mood Meter app: