How to Feel All the Feels

Photo credit: Gunnar Dickfeld

For the uninitiated, the term feels is internet shorthand for extreme emotional reactions. Although the term may be new to a few of you (ahem, mom) the sensation is surely not.

As a person who has lived in the world, you no doubt have stumbled across these moments of extreme emotional response. Whether they've been expected or unexpected, they have invariably left shockwaves of residual feels radiating outward through life, until even the mere memories of these feels produce feels of their own.

Honestly, it's a lot to deal with.

How to Feel All the Feels:

1. Read where you travel and travel where you read. 

During the interminable year-long wait between the publications of Blackout and All Clear, the latest two installments in Connie Willis's unbelievably gripping Oxford Time Travel sequence, my younger sister and I visited London. For many reasons, a visit to St. Paul's seemed inevitable, not the least of which was our desire to see what Dunworthy had found so captivating about the cathedral. 

We soon knew. 

While she took the time to climb to the Golden Gallery, I descended, wobble-kneed, from the Whispering Gallery to collapse in front of The Light of the World. Later, after buying a cheap dinner at a Marks & Spencer, we sat in silence on the steps of St. Paul's and ate fresh fruit in a misty rain, lost in thought, feeling ALL THE TIME-TRAVEL FEELS. 

When we stumbled upon the monument to the Fire Watch nearby, my lip wibbled. I thought of the Hodbins and Eileen and Colin and poor Mike. I searched the crowds for a flash of red hair, thinking to myself, You did this to me, Connie Willis. YOU DID THIS TO ME.


Likewise, in a somewhat inverse experience this past summer, I read Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize-winning war novel The Killer Angels only days after walking the battlefields at Gettysburg. With the landscape fresh in my mind's eye, the narrative seemed to leap directly from the page straight into my brain.

Days later, as my friend and I left Gettysburg and drove her Prius through the Pennsylvania twilight, I could almost hear the fife and drum, all the while half expecting a ghost regiment, complete with hastily-tied bloody bandages and bearing a tattered flag, to come marching from the misty woods along the interstate.


2. Hike to the tops of mountains, stare out over the sweep of the sea, and contemplate the vastness of space.

If you can do any of these and not be overcome by feels, you may not be human.

I'm not kidding. You might literally be a robot. You had better go check.

3. Fall in love with fictional characters and dead historical figures.

Joshua Chamberlain
Sir Percy Blakeney
Mr. Thornton
Edward Rochester
John Keats
Steve Rogers
John Donne
Lincoln Lee

Most were married, some are dead, and a few never existed outside the realm of fiction. And yet how different their lives would have been had they only met us. They are amazing and beautiful and perfect, and no one has ever appreciated them like we do. And yet, we can never have them, leaving our lives a collective emotional wasteland of angst and regret.

This is a bitter cup, from which most of us have drunk deeply. 


4. Participate in the arts. 

As gripping as music is -- as moved as we sometimes are when we listen to it -- something else entirely happens during the process of learning a piece of music. People who haven't learned music -- I mean really, truly learned it -- may not understand this, but here it is: when music is learned, something changes. 

By some strange alchemy, everything merges. We become the music, and the music becomes us. 

After having labored many hours, first alone and later in company, to rehearse and perform Mozart's Requiem, Puccini's Gloria, Mendelssohn's Hymn of Praise, Rutter's Mass of the Children, and various other major works, I've found that contrary to feeling at the end that I'm now "over" these pieces -- that I've somehow gotten them out of my system -- I find instead that the magic deepens. Many's the time I've listened to a major work for days and weeks after a performance just to recapture the fading glory. 

I can no longer listen to any of these works without deep emotion. 

And theater? Forget about it. Only after you've memorized a scene and learned to feel it from the inside out do you ever truly discover the nuance of the phrases, the power of the words. Only once you're off book can you begin to sense, dimly, the giddy undercurrent driving everything forward. 

In the years that I directed plays, I found that the closer we came to opening night, the more often I would find myself laughing, catching my breath, or being moved to tears -- generally in ways I had never anticipated upon first reading a script. After all, an unknown script is a mere possibility, whereas a well-known script produces echoes that will reverberate through the rest of your life.

I feel sorry that the audience generally only gets to experience this once, and even then, it's a dim aftershock of what the actors experience, poised on the stage in the emotional epicenter. 

Unless the script is terrible, of course. In that case, your participation will still produce feels, but of a much different kind. Oh, my friends... those feels... Those feels are dark indeed. 

5. Contemplate the nature of heaven. 

While I may not know everything about heaven, I know that I will see Jesus there, and that gives me feels to the power of infinity.



No matter what brings them on, one fact is certain: feels come to us all. What remains for us to do is to determine how to deal with our feels without exploding into a million glorious, aching little pieces.

Good luck.


  1. You forgot point #6: Be Katherine! All the feels, all the time!


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