What Are Emotions?

The types of emotions we experience daily are so vast that psychologists are still developing theories about them and how our behaviors, choices, perceptions, and actions influence our feelings at any moment. In the 1970s, a psychologist by the name of Paul Eckmen was able to analyze the vast array of emotions that are felt by people from all walks of life and even within different cultures. He eventually narrowed it down to six emotions he felt were universally experienced. Originally there were only six emotions; as time passed and studies into human behavior became increasingly sought after, he expanded the list to include four additional universal emotions as well; the list is as follows: 1. Happiness 2. Sadness 3. Disgust 4. Fear 5. Surprise 6. Anger 7. Pride 8. Shame 9. Embarrassment 10. Excitement Another psychologist that was instrumental in our understanding of emotions was Robert Plutchik; his theory involved a “wheel of emotions” that was similar in practice to that of the color wheel, implying that both colors and emotions can be combined (much like the primary colors) to form a feeling. For example, joy and trust can be connected to create love. Despite Plutchik’s theory, in 2017, a study was conducted. One eventually published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that there are twenty-seven varying classifications of emotions. Researchers found that emotions are felt along a gradient and have numerous combinations. A study that Jeanne Tsai did at Stanford University shows that most people have the desire to “feel more positive than negative.” Still, the emotions that lead to a positive emotional state can vary between cultures. For example, according to Tsai’s APS article, the positive emotions that “European Americans typically preferred [were] excitement and elation,” during Chinese populations “preferred calm and relaxation more.” As with any theory, there are many, even though Eckman’s approach is the most cited. The number of universal emotions widely accepted as truth by most (if not all) researchers is that there are twenty-seven categories of emotion. A few holdouts believe there are even fewer than six (ten if you add the other four), going as far as to say there are as few as three. I disagree with that sentiment, and I’m more inclined to believe there are ten. It’s a reasonable enough number for it to be universal and experienced by all human beings in all cultures; twenty-seven, on the other hand, seems like too many to be universally shared by every human being, seeing as all people describe emotions in various ways that are also why I do enjoy “the color wheel” theory and like to imagine feeling as that fluid and interchangeable with each other.

What is the difference between feelings and emotions?

Emotions are a temporary state, and they establish our initial attitude towards reality, warn us of immediate dangers, and ready us for action. They ensure our survival in the short term. For example, an unexpected death in the family, a close friend who was in a bad car wreck, or our first reaction to a sister marrying that guy we think is a douchebag, our initial reactions to things such as these. They also can be either conscious or subconscious. Emotions can be extremely intense, but (and I’ll repeat it because of their importance) they are temporary. Examples of emotions include: • Joy • Fear • Enthusiasm • Anger • Lust • Sadness Feelings dictate how to live our lives, and they create the foundations of our long-term attitudes toward our reality. Senses warn us of dangers that we predict, which is why anxiousness is said to exist within humans in the first place; as a survival tactic. Only in modern society is anxiety considered a mental disorder. Feelings ensure the long-term survival of the self, and while they may be underlying, unlike emotions, they can be sustained over long periods. Some examples of feelings include the following: • Happiness • Worry • Contentment • Bitterness • Love • Depression I pretty much envision feelings aligning with personal values because that shapes your perception of the world and how you choose to interact with it over time. I think emotions are short-term and can be experienced either consciously or subconsciously. If you’re still confused, I’ll leave you with a near-perfect explanation that makes this essay obsolete. Like I could have quickly just taken a few quotes from her and called it a day, and avoided confusing anyone in the first place (which is understandable, especially given the complexity of the subject), do not fret for Karla McLaren, author of The Language of Emotions, has come up with the perfect way to describe the differences in one explanation that’s only one sentence, she describes it as follows: “An emotion is a physiological experience (or state of awareness) that gives you information about the world, and a feeling is your conscious awareness of the emotion itself. Emotions are always true (about something), but they’re not always right.”
Feelings result from our emotions, which are our immediate reactions to external stimuli, helping to preserve the sense of self both in the mind and body. If we begin to understand our emotions and the feelings that shape our worldview, we can start to understand ourselves and other people better. We can develop compassion and understanding for people we don’t necessarily agree with, people outside of our regular social circles, and even form new connections and make new friends, expanding our social capital. By fighting for mutual causes despite core differences in values, we can build a better society for our children and for generations to come. All we must do is try.