What are Emotions? Emotions vs. Feelings

What are Emotions? Emotions vs. Feelings

Human emotions are complicated. They have the power to impact how satisfied we are throughout life so it’s important to understand what they are and how to use them to our advantage. We’ll also look at emotions vs. feelings while working through the impact emotions have on every one of us. 


What are Emotions? 


Emotions can be defined as a conscious mental reaction (like anger and fear) to a trigger that’s experienced subjectively as a strong feeling. These feelings can create physiological and behavioural changes within the body. Emotions are also part of a coordinated response system – where emotion occurs when specific biological, experiential, or cognitive states occur simultaneously. 


Emotions vs. Feelings


Many people use the terms ‘emotions’ and feelings’ interchangeably which makes it seem like they are the same. While they sound similar, they have different meanings that make them separate entities


Emotions act as the raw data or original sensations in the body that causes a reaction to the present moment. According to Psychology Today, an emotion “can only ever be felt…through the emotional experiences it gives rise to.” Feelings are influenced by emotions but come from the thoughts we formulate. Feelings are experienced consciously, while emotions are experienced subconsiously or consciously. For example, you might act out of the emotion of anger when you’re really feeling fear. It’s important to listen to our bodily emotions in order to connect to the present experience, instead of going off of feelings that are based on beliefs that are inaccurate.  


The Six Basic Emotions


The best way to start better understanding your emotions is by taking a look at the six basic emotions. These basic emotions are experienced by all people in every culture and were first established by a psychologist, Paul Eckman

  1. Happiness


This is the emotion people are constantly seeking. It can also be described as joy, contentment and satisfaction and can be noticed when someone smiles, has a relaxed body language, and uses a cheerful tone of voice. Many factors contribute to someone’s overall happiness, but mental and physical health are very closely linked. 

  1. Sadness


Sadness can also be described as hopelessness, disinterest, or disappointment. It’s an emotional state that most people try to avoid because it’s not pleasant and can lead to more severe issues, such as depression. Sadness can be seen when someone cries, is quiet and avoids interacting with others. 

  1. Fear


Fear is most commonly linked to humans’ survival instincts because it plays a substantial role in how we react in dangerous situations – our fight or flight response. This response occurs when fear occurs, and your body pushes you to run from the situation or stand your ground and fight. Fear can be seen by wide eyes, attempting to hide, or run from the threat and/or physiological responses such as a rapid heart rate, sweaty palms and shaky hands. Fear affects people in different ways which is why some people jump at the opportunity to engage in extreme sports/activities and others don’t. 

  1. Disgust


Disgust isn’t experienced as frequently as some of the other basic emotions but can occur for a variety of reasons. Some of which consist of unpleasant smells, tastes, and sights. This can be helpful in certain situations such as smelling that food has gone bad and not eating it. Disgust can be seen by someone’s body language (turning away) and vomiting. 

  1. Anger 


Anger can be one of the most powerful emotions and can also be described as frustration or hostility. Anger is also involved in your fight or flight response but instead of running from the threat, someone experiencing anger might want to fight. It can be seen by someone frowning, yelling, turning red and throwing or hitting objects. Experiencing anger in excess can be dangerous but it can also be used as a helpful tool to take action when a situation is bothering you. 

  1. Surprise


You experience the basic emotion of surprise when something unexpected occurs. A surprise can be positive or negative and can be seen by wide eyes, jumping back and/or screaming. It also plays a role in the flight or fight response, giving some people a burst of adrenaline when a threat occurs. 


The Seven Principles of Emotions


There are also key principles of emotions that explain their role in the evolution and human behaviour. 

  1. Emotion feeling comes from our evolution and neurobiological development. It’s mostly adaptive and is one of the most important psychological aspects of emotions and consciousness.
  2. Emotions are central to our consciousness and therefore impact our consciousness throughout the course of our life. For example, if you feel a lot of sadness, most of your focus will be on the bad things that occur each day of your life.
  3. Emotions can be used to motivate and inform you, based on how they make you feel and experience life as an individual. So, if you often feel happy, you’ll likely be motivated to engage in activities and work on things that will bring you more joy in the future.
  4. Your basic emotion feelings influence the actions that are needed in survival situations. The emotion schemas that are created within a specific situation determine biases, thoughts, and action plans.
  5. The way that you utilise emotions is often dependent on emotion-cognition interaction and stems partially from learned social, behavioural, and cognitive skills.
  6. Emotion schemas don’t adapt well when learning leads to the connection of emotion feelings and maladaptive cognition and action.
  7. People experience the emotion of interest constantly and it’s what motivates creativity and productivity, bringing about a sense of wellbeing. Interest is responsible for selective attention which impacts your other mental processes. 


Taking Control of Our Emotions 


The first step to taking control of our emotions is understanding how they work. Emotions can have a strong influence on our lives and how we interact with other people, so knowing how the basic emotions and how emotions differ from feelings can help us take control of our lives. Learn more about your emotional health and wellbeing on the Tranquille Therapy blog where we share tips on regulating your emotions, as well as other helpful information related to mental health! 


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