Essays · Lifestyle · Mental Health

Why You Need To Understand Your Emotions (Part One)

*Part One*


What are the main emotions?

Let me start off by saying that there are many ideas about this. When I went digging, I expected to find one concrete answer, but no! Many psychologists and philosophers have agonised for centuries over the concept of emotions; which we have and what they mean and so on. But still, there is no one definite answer, because, well, humans are complex!

Instead, I’ll share what I found about the key findings on emotion. (Sorry for the information overload but I promise, it’s interesting stuff!)

Aristotle’s List of Emotion, Aristotle “proposed 14 distinct emotional expressions: fear, confidence, anger, friendship, calm, enmity, shame, shamelessness, pity, kindness, envy, indignation, emulation, and contempt.”

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions: Plutchik proposed eight basic emotionsjoy, sadness, trust, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, and anticipation— “which he believed overlapped and bled into the next like hues on a colour wheel.”

For example, anticipation plus joy might come together to create optimism, while fear and surprise might join to create awe.

These were seen as “unconnected islands.”


*Dacher Keltner of Berkley University found, “human emotions are not limited to the typically recognized six—happy, sad, frightened, angry, surprised, and disgusted…there are 27 distinct emotions that we experience.

According to Keltner, the 27 Emotions are, in alphabetical order: 

  • Admiration
  • Adoration
  • Aesthetic Appreciation
  • Amusement
  • Anxiety
  • Awe
  • Awkwardness
  • Boredom
  • Calmness
  • Confusion
  • Craving
  • Disgust
  • Empathetic pain
  • Entrancement
  • Envy
  • Excitement
  • Fear
  • Horror
  • Interest
  • Joy
  • Nostalgia
  • Romance
  • Sadness
  • Satisfaction
  • Sexual desire
  • Sympathy
  • Triumph

Unlike the idea that each emotional state is an “island”, the study found that “there are smooth gradients of emotion between, say, awe and peacefulness, horror and sadness, and amusement and adoration,” Keltner said. (sources listed below)


Psychology Today  says, “Being hardwired, basic emotions (or ‘affect programs’) are innate and universal, automatic, and fast, and trigger behaviour with a high survival value.

One hypothesis is that basic emotions can function as building blocks, with more complex emotions being blends of basic ones. For instance, contempt could amount to a blend of anger and disgust.

Although basic emotions have been compared to programs, it does seem that their potential objects are open to cultural conditioning. If poor Tim fears having missed his exam, this is in large part because of the value that his culture and micro-culture attach to academic success. ”

Knowing what they do for you

Now that all the scientific side is out of the way, you can now hear from me again!

I think being able to describe or name an emotion is difficult. Perhaps this is why so many of us are emotion-averse. We don’t understand what we’re feeling or why and can’t even put a name to it sometimes.

But I think it is incredibly important to first know that your emotions aren’t something that just happens to you. They’re there for a reason. This is where emotional intelligence comes in, it helps us to be better at finding those reasons.

Emotional Intelligencethe capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”

Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer on Emotional Intelligence says, “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.

Salovey and Mayer proposed a model that identified four different levels of emotional intelligence: emotional perception, the ability to reason using emotions, the ability to understand emotion, and the ability to manage emotions. (Read more in-depth on the VeryWellMind site).


Emotions play many roles, but in a nutshell, they are a response to a stimulus. They are a way of saying, “hey, something is going on here.”

VeryWellMind says, “The emotional area of our brain, known as the Amygdala, sends signals to our bodies based on situations that we find ourselves in. Such signals prepare us to deal with the situations that we encounter.”

So, if you get sad when you see that your sister is about to jet off to Thailand (like I did last year), then this is your emotions telling you that you have a dream of doing something so daring and new and exciting, too. And that you’re sad that you aren’t doing it.

Or if someone calls you stupid and you get angry or sad, it’s your emotions highlighting insecurities within you. A shame trigger, as Brene Brown would put it. You have a fear that you aren’t intelligent, or at least compared to others, and this makes you sad and brings you shame. And so, when people call you stupid, you react with anger or sadness.

Your emotions are a signal; a red light; an indicator of something deeper under the surface.


Recognising them and what they mean

Daniel Goleman, basically the founder of modern emotional intelligence as a concept, says, “The emotional brain responds to an event more quickly than the thinking brain.”

This could be why we feel things and don’t know it or what it’s about. It’s because even before our brains can catch up, our emotions are at play. They’re instinctual, reactive, quick.

Emotional responses to situations can look like the following:

  • Tension in the muscles
  • Upset stomach
  • Facial expressions
  • Gulping
  • Fidgeting
  • Sweating
  • Red face (blushing)
  • Squinting or wincing
  • Freezing up
  • Crossing arms
  • Biting nails
  • And so on…

Instead of just feeling an emotion or witnessing it in someone else and just accepting it, we need to try to ask why, too. This is where interpretation and analysis takes place. Knowing the why behind emotional reactions can be incredibly informative, insightful, and life-changing.

When you begin to understand why your emotions have popped up, you can begin to understand yourself. Knowing yourself is a beautiful and empowering, though complex thing. Knowing emotional triggers can help you to understand, predict, and govern yourself with more awareness, intention, and authenticity.

We’ll talk more in-depth about emotional reactions, behaviours, triggers, insecurities, and more in Part Two.


See part two here…





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