Luisella Planeta Leoni via Pixabay

Emotional intelligence, also known as EI or EQ (for Emotional Quotient), describes a person’s ability to recognize emotions, to understand their effect, and to use that information to guide decision-making. Since EI gives you deeper insight into the role emotions play in your life, a high EQ can help you reach goals more effectively.

Of course, getting in touch with your emotions (and those of others) can be a challenging process. And changing deeply rooted and long-standing behaviors requires substantial commitment.

So, how do you increase your EQ?

Researchers have found that some of our favorite recreational activities can produce an increase in emotional intelligence.

Here are nine surprising ways to sharpen your EQ, and have some fun in the process:

1. Watching movies

If you’re a movie fan, you realize the emotional responses a good film can inspire–from eliciting sympathy for a tragically flawed character, to the feel-good story that lifts us up. (In fact, a number of researchers have documented the effects of film on our emotions.)

So the next time you watch a film, take a few moments afterwards to reflect on the emotions you felt during different scenes. Ask yourself questions like: With which characters did I empathize the most? Why was that? What would I have done differently if I were a part of the story?

Contemplating thoughts like these will help you to understand your own emotional reactions better.

2. Listening to music

The research suggesting the power of music over our emotions is plentiful.

For example:

So, while listening to your playlist this weekend, pay attention to the emotions your music inspires.

3. Reading books

As my colleague Jessica Stillman wrote about last month, recent studies suggest that reading great fiction has a unique ability to improve our emotional intelligence.

This makes sense: As we delve into books, we stretch our imaginations to put ourselves in the characters’ shoes, to understand their thinking, their feelings, their motivations. It’s then natural that these abilities would carry over into our everyday lives.

So, you’re not just taking a break by reading that novel. You’re improving your ability to empathize with others.

4. Engaging in sports and exercise

In this systematic review of 36 studies that assessed emotional intelligence in the context of athletics or physical activity, researchers found that EI related to:

  • physiological stress responses
  • successful psychological skill usage
  • more successful athletic performance
  • positive attitudes toward physical activity

Additionally, the authors of the article state that “athletes are required to consistently cope with the stress of hard training and competitive pressure, and this includes understanding and regulating their emotions and those of other individuals.”

In other words, higher emotional intelligence can actually make you better at sports and exercise, and vice versa.

5. Playing video games

A significant amount of research has gone into the negative impact of playing video games, but more and more scientists are exploring the benefits.

For example, an article published in American Psychologist outlined the emotional benefits of gaming, which included providing the means for youth to generate positive feelings, and the possibility to help individuals develop more control over their emotional reactions.

6. Playing with dolls or action figures

Scott Barry Kaufman investigates the nature and development of the imagination in his work at the University of Pennsylvania. In an essay for Psychology Today, he highlighted the benefits of character-based play:

The research reviewed by Berk, Mann & Ogan, (2006) and Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff, Berk, & Singer (2009) suggest that make-believe games are forerunners of the important capacity for forms of self-regulation including reduced aggression, delay of gratification, civility, and empathy.

When children use toys to introduce possible scenarios or friends, the representation of multiple perspectives occurs naturally. Taking on different roles allows children the unique opportunity to learn social skills such as communication, problem solving, and empathy (Hughes, 1999).

Ok, so this one may be geared towards your kids. But why not jump in and join the fun?

7. Writing

More and more research has proven that writing, especially about traumatic or stressful events, serves as a form of catharsis, providing numerous benefits on individuals’ emotional health.

8. Traveling

Studies have suggested that extended travel promotes increases in emotional stability, takes individuals out of their comfort zone, and encourages growth in perspective.

When was the last time you went on vacation?

9. Sleeping

Research indicates that sleep and emotion are very closely linked.

For example, a research paper that reviewed relevant literature on sleep and socio-emotional functioning found that:

  • Sleep deprivation was associated with diminished emotional expressivity and impaired emotion recognition, with particular relevance for social interactions
  • Sleep deprivation increases emotional reactivity
  • Evidence indicated emotional dysregulation as a result of insomnia and poor sleep

To put it simply, good sleep helps you to keep your emotions under control, and reduces the instances where one reacts in a way he or she later regrets.

Parting Thoughts

What are your plans for the weekend?

Get ready to relax, have some fun…and sharpen your emotional intelligence in the process.

Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

A version of this article originally appeared on