What are emotions?

“When one has the feeling of dislike for evil, when one feels tranquil, one finds pleasure in listening to good teachings; when one has these feelings and appreciates them, one is free of fear.” Buddha

“When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.” Stephen Covey

What are emotions? Merriam-Webster.com defines it as: a conscious mental reaction (such as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioural changes in the body. The French word émouvoir,(which means “to stir up”) in 1800’s was used in psychological category by academics as emotion as a scientific term. Before the use of the word was in common use words like passions , sentiments and affections. Interestingly the concept of emotions in different language groups vary in definition. For example fear was related to anxiety. In other languages the word fear related to regrets and grief. In some cultures different emotion had contrasting effects either positive or negative. This is useful to know because our understanding of a emotion could be totally different from someone else interpretation of a word. Language continues to evolve rapidly in today’s generation for example my children use the expression”it’s sick “ means awesome and cool.

Emotions are a very complex subject because we are very complex individuals from diversity of knowledge and culture to our own personal experiences of emotions. The beauty of having human relationships compared animals relationships. Humans have the capacity to have feelings with emotions at a far deeper level than any other living organism on this planet. We may love our dog ,we may have a relationship with our cat ,we may talk to our parrot.To have real connections we need feedback verbally from another humans. With important ideas and concepts humanity can communicate means ideas that will enrich life for both parties.

The classical theory of what emotions are is out of date but many still cling to that redundant idea. The old classical idea was taught that humans were born with a set of emotions. The Physcologist Lisa Feldman Barrett and neuroscientist in her brilliant book explains how emotions are constructed. I will describe briefly her concept of constructed emotions.The brain has a huge network operating systems organising the body survival mode. In essence the brain links the word to a constructed event in the memory with all the body systems linked to that word and memory. The experiences we feel , we see , we hear etc are encoded in the brain as an emotion. For example the body senses of happiness is related to all the good events happened in your life especially the positive body gains. The heat of the sun, refreshing cold drink, the lovely tasty meal and the sound of relaxing music. Our parents and friends relate what they felt and labelled it. Imagine you are born blind , describe the sky as blue, but we could change the word and say it’s purple the blind person has no reference.We have the ability to relate our experiences to others on how we felt. Emotions are a very personal and subjective idea and to say we know how a person feels is probably very limiting and maybe wrong.

The great concept available now is to enhance our vocabulary and our language of emotions what they actually mean to us and others. The ultimate challenge with our emotional histories is to become a PhD in this exciting emotional language with receiving the diploma of emotional intelligence. With this accolade it will enhance the opportunity for success in life with meaningful relationships and greater success. The four semesters of learning this skill covers the topics of self awareness, social awareness,self management and relationship management.


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About Stephen Hyne

I am creative and curious about life. I have a passion for the brain and the psychology of human behaviour. I love the renaissance art, culture and architecture. Music is my best friend follows me on my life journey of discovery.

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