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Emotional Capital

Emotional capital enables people to act and feel effectively.

Everybody knows people who are rich and smart, but do not seem to be able to do much with their lives because of personal failings. They lack emotional capital.

In economics, capital is the financial wealth and other assets owned by a person or organization that provide income. Sociologists and psychologists have metaphorically extended this idea to include cultural capital, social capital, and human capital. I propose another extension, introducing the idea of emotional capital to cover the abilities of people to use emotions effectively for many purposes.

Cultural capital covers the non-financial assets that promote success, including education, intellect, style, and physical appearance. Social capital covers the benefits of having relationships with people and groups, including families, clubs, workplaces, and other organizations. Human capital covers the knowledge, habits, personality traits, and creativity that enable people to be economically successful. None of these explicitly mentions emotions, so we need an additional idea of emotional capital.

What are the emotional resources that enable people to be successful in their economic and personal lives? Here is a preliminary list.

Self-esteem is having a positive overall opinion of yourself, valuing your own ideas and abilities.

Self-regulation is the ability to control undesirable behaviors such as overeating or abusing alcohol.

Emotional energy is the capacity to motivate action by positive emotions such as enthusiasm.

Attachment is the ability to form emotional bonds with worthy people.

Resilience is the power to respond to life’s challenges by bouncing back and moving forward, maybe even becoming better than before—prosilience.

Agreeableness is the ability to get along well with other people by being warm, friendly, and tactful.

Optimism is the confidence that life will work out, as opposed to the neurotic pattern of excessive worrying.

People are rich in emotional capital if they are high in self-esteem, self-regulation, emotional energy, attachment, resilience, agreeableness, and optimism. As with the other kinds of capital, individuals may vary in the extent to which they have such emotional resources. What are the origins of emotional capital?

Like other aspects of personality, the causes of emotional capital may be genetic, epigenetic, learning, or choice. Genetic means that your characteristics such as optimism are inherited through the genes you got from your biological parents. Epigenetic means that the genes are turned on or off by chemical modifications that result from environments including while you were in your mother’s womb. For example, parents suffering from poor nutrition or stress can produce epigenetic modifications in their offspring. Learning begins as soon as the brain is sufficiently developed to form new synaptic connections that may influence how new situations are understood and acted on. Finally, there are occasions when choices such as avoiding dangerous people can have long-term effects on future resources such as emotional energy.

Just as everyone is not born financially rich, most people go through lives with limits in their emotional capital. It remains unknown whether there are reliable methods for increasing it.

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