In ancient Greece the gymnasium was as a training facility for competitors in public games. Things haven’t changed much, except that these days people keep their clothes on and spectators are discouraged (in ancient Greece, apparently, the athletes were naked and people came to watch).
Modern gymnasiums (I hear), are about fitness, health and performance. The principle is that if you use your body in a certain way, you can tone and improve it, and, to some extent, counter the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle.
We accept that a different kind of exercise can help develop the mind, and that regular training can even help stave off the effects of mental decline as we get older. There’s never any question that keeping the mind active and alert is an essential part of wellbeing, and – if you believe the media – people who seem bright and interested in life actually do better socially.
If it works for the body and the mind, could a simple regime of exercise work for the emotions? Could flexing our feelings make them stronger and improve their performance?
The short answer is Yes; the more you use an emotion, the fitter, stronger and more available it becomes. If you practice love, it’s easier to do more of it. On the other hand, practice emotions like hate and anger, and those too are more readily available. When it comes to feelings, the more you do it, the easier it gets.
Like the Greeks, modern culture idealises the perfect body, and to some extend admires a ‘beautiful mind’. It’s a shame that we haven’t grasped that how we experience our feelings is also a matter of learning and practice too. We may not be able to control our emotional reactions, but we can choose the degree to which we indulge them.