I write and talk about emotions a lot. I find many people consider them ethereal and mysterious so don’t understand them. As a result, they close off an important part of their identity.
Many people think of our minds having a rational side and an emotional side. They think of the rational side as reasonable. They contrast the emotional side with it and consider emotions as irrational and weird, not amenable to understanding.
Emotions motivate us
Since I usually approach emotions from a leadership perspective, I think of them functionally—emotions motivate us. As leaders we want to motivate ourselves, which means understanding our emotions—what we feel and how they work. I’ve found they works systematically—that is, consistently, reliably, and consistently. They work in a system including your environment, beliefs, behavior, and emotional reward (explained in my series on The Model).
Think of any emotion and you can think of how it motivates you. Happiness makes you want to continue the experience, anger makes you want to teach someone a lesson, and so on.
Emotions have a feeling to them
Emotions have a second side. Emotions feel like… well, it’s hard to say what they feel like except that emotions have unique feelings. Think of any emotion and you can imagine its feeling. Words don’t describe the feelings well. Artists and musicians try to communicate the feelings through their media. The best I can say in prose is that happiness feels happy, sadness feels sad, and so on. You know the feelings because you know the emotions, even if my description communicates little.
Broadly, you can say some emotions we like to feel and some we don’t. We usually say the former feel good and the latter bad, but sometimes we indulge in an emotion we don’t like, like anger, and sometimes an emotion we like leads to hurt.
Anyway, since I write a lot about and try to coach leadership, I tend to write more about their motivational aspects.
Their feeling side is fundamental to grasp if you want to understand and improve your life. Those feelings determine the quality of your life. They are the source of meaning, value, importance, and purpose (MVIP). The more you like the emotions you feel, the more MVIP in your life. The more you dislike the emotions you feel, the less. If you don’t understand emotions, you miss their place at the foundation of MVIP and the harder creating MVIP will be for you.
What each part does
Motivation leads to behavior, which leads to changing your environment. Without this part of your emotions you’d act purely reflexively or not at all.
Feelings give life meaning, value, importance, and purpose, which guide your decisions and behavior and keep you from being an automaton.