What is Emotional Intelligence and Why Does it Matter?

January 25, 2017, 4:43 PM UTC
Active human brain
Glowing lines and spots encircling a human brain
Photo by PM Images—Getty Images

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.

Most people are conditioned to believe that knowledge is power, when, in fact, knowledge is only potential power. In my life, I’ve been blessed enough to have many meaningful conversations, yet the one I had this past week on emotional intelligence with a young woman, Ashley Zahabian, who I met at the entrepreneurial incubator that I recently launched, Fownders, really resonated with me.

We were going through her pitch deck and stumbled across the topic of “EQ” emotional intelligence. As the conversation grew more in depth, she told me a powerful story of a young boy and his grandfather that truly altered my perception.

“A young boy and his grandfather were sitting in a car on their way to a restaurant to grab dinner,” she said. She went on explaining how the grandfather was curious as to what his grandson’s choice of food would be.

“Salmon! I love salmon so much,” the little boy shouted with high energy.

The grandfather stayed quiet as they pulled up to the restaurant and parked their car to go inside. About twenty minutes later, the food finally arrives and the little boy devours his meal and enjoys every bite of his favorite food. The grandfather, a little uneasy, approaches his grandson with a critical question.

“So you love fish, huh?” he asked.

“I do! My favorite part is the crunchy end! Thank you so much, Grandpa,” the little boy shares.

Instead of appreciating the thanks from his grandson, however, the grandfather continues to question the little boy.

“Grandson, I want you to understand what I’ve become aware of over time. Thirty minutes ago you told me how much you loved that fish, and how it was your favorite fish ever. I want you to think about something, though. In order to eat that fish, do you know what that fish went through? First, there was a hook that made the fish bleed and feel pain. Second, it was taken away from it’s family. Third, it was killed. Then, it was burned so you can enjoy that extra crisp. Last, it was chewed up by you so you can taste the deliciousness of a grilled piece of salmon. Grandson, are you sure you love the fish, or do you just love yourself?” The little boy’s grandfather continued, “in life Grandson, everything is built on relationships, but this is what kills them. We claim to love people or want to do well for those around us, but continue to do what’s best for ourselves. That’s not love, that’s called selfishness.”

He closed the conversation by teaching his grandson what it meant to become self aware of the words we choose, decisions we make, and emotions we are truly feeling; he taught his grandson how self awareness could service him in learning how to serve those he claimed to love.

“You want a good life little man?” asked the grandfather.

“Sure do, grandpa,” the little boy responded.

“Then here is the secret: when you learn to control and take care of your emotions, you learn to focus on everybody else because you’re already taken care of. When you can focus on everybody else, you learn how to serve them. When you learn to serve them, you then deserve them… and if you can deserve them, the relationships will make your life a successful one.”

The little boy felt disappointed in himself after realizing his grandfather was right, until his grandfather told him that this was a life-long lesson that was well-worth the slip-up. The little boy then smiled with appreciation, and felt grateful that it all happened.

Powerful story, right? Well, what I learned from this was that whether we like it or not, emotions will fuel our every decision. Even when we have the most logical facts in front of us, the deciding variable is our emotional response. If we can’t control that response, we will keep eating the fish we love and damaging the relationships that make up our life and happiness.

The form of self-awareness that the grandfather was teaching his grandson is called Emotional Intelligence. Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to practice self-awareness to better understand ourselves and thus become more compassionate and conscious toward the experiences of others. The discussion around Emotional Intelligence and its value has grown over the past few years.

Currently, most of society and the traditional educational system is consumed with the traditional style of teaching that entails memorization of facts and testing. However, the setback with this kind of education is that it merely accounts for our academics. To add to this, we can’t consistently increase our IQ throughout our life within this limited scope of knowledge and awareness. In comparison, our Emotional Intelligence infiltrates our relationships, our health, our diet, our management style, our wealth or lack of it, our parenting and every aspect of our lives; it can continually be improved, which is why investing in Emotional Intelligence and self-awareness is a huge advantage.

Try asking yourself: what would you rather invest in, a car or a home? The wise decision would be a home, because the ROI (return on investment) on a home is positive, whereas a car drops in fiscal value over time. Understanding that our time is more valuable than our bank account, wouldn’t you want your time to have a return on your investment as well? You can either spend years investing in IQ, which won’t return much progressive change, or your EI, which can return a much grander margin of progressive and consistent change.

This reason alone is why I’ve begun paying more attention to my Emotional Intelligence; I can control it.

More from Entrepreneur:
Why You Need Emotional Intelligence to Succeed in Business
How Emotional Intelligence Can Boost Your Career—And Save Your Life
The Importance of Emotional Intelligence at Work

Another great advantage to investing in your Emotional Intelligence is the power to expand your happiness. At some point in life, everybody experiences life’s struggle that take us on the high-low emotional roller-coaster. Emotional intelligence allows us to become aware of the lesson, rather than the surface level pain. Just like the little boy who felt disappointed after he slipped-up; once his grandfather expressed that this would be a life-long lesson worth the mistake, the little boy felt immediately content and appreciative. At the end of the day, our mission in life is growth. When we are able to invite growth, the pleasure overrides the pain, and we become happier individuals. IQ, on the other hand, cannot create this happiness.

The list of benefits for Emotional Intelligence goes on; it is the only consistent way to instill happiness and confidence in ourselves and it teaches us to serve the world authentically.

Ashley shared with me that she continues to ask herself before every decision she makes, “am I loving the fish or myself right now?” I recommend for us all to follow in doing so and for every aspiring entrepreneur to invest in Emotional Intelligence. After that, the journey is a fun ride.

Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.