Our emotions actually communicate some pretty important things to our brains. We tend to only experience our emotions instead of learning from them. Emotions are important to our decision making, our sense of well-being, and our relationships with others. If we’re not careful though, we can allow our emotions to get out of hand and cause us problems. It is important to take the information our emotions provide and do something constructive with it. This allows us to blend our emotions with logic, giving us the opportunity to make better decisions.
Emotions Communicate Something
I realize there are lot of different “feeling words.” In fact, click here for a pretty good list of 100 different words to describe how you feel. For the sake of brevity, I want to stick with 4 primary emotions: happy, sad, scared, and angry. I know, I know…there are plenty of others.
Each of these 4 primary emotional states communicates something to us. We can actually gain information from our emotions rather than just experiencing them. This is why emotions are important. They allow us to gain information that our logical minds may not be able to grasp in a given moment. Emotions are important to our perception. Our reasoning often can’t keep up with what is going on around us. Think of emotions as early warning signals.
What Emotions Mean
Think about the 4 primary emotional states I identified. Each of them communicates something to us that we might not be able to piece together in the moment. Being able to identify exactly “what” our emotions are saying can give us some pretty cool insights.
When we feel happy, it is usually because we have gained something or expect to gain something. Happiness is a state we all hope to achieve more of, more often. We got a raise. Maybe you opened the perfect gift on Christmas Day. Maybe your child just got an acceptance letter from Harvard. Happiness tells me that my experience in the moment is one of gain. I am getting something. It may be something I can touch like a new car. It may be something I experience like a hug from my wife or an “I love you” from my daughter.
On the other hand, when we feel sad, it’s because we experience loss or expect to. Perhaps a loved one has died or something was lost. Perhaps something I was hoping for didn’t come through and I am now coming to grips with the loss of that expectation. The loss may be tangible as in a pet or intangible like someone’s respect. Sadness signals loss of something.
When we are scared, it is due to perceived danger. We expect to be harmed in some way or expect that someone close to us has been or is about to be harmed. Fear is a powerful emotion that causes us to flee danger. When we talk about emotions being important, it is not hard to see how fear allows us to survive.
Oddly enough, anger is a form of fear. Anger signals that we have experienced harm or we are afraid of being harmed. However, it causes us to react in the opposite way. We attack instead of retreat. Why do I say anger is a form of fear? Glad you asked! We have lost something and are afraid of losing more. We react in anger usually because we believe our rights have been violated in some way and we want to prevent future violations of our boundaries.
The Accuracy of Signals
Sometimes our signals are off. At times, we might sense loss when no loss has occurred or no loss is pending. At other times, we feel afraid when there is actually no real threat. It is important to stop and evaluate whether or not our emotions are communicating reality or they’re simply telling us what we have always expected.
It is important that we understand the meanings of our emotions. These meanings communicate very important things to us that can help in our decision-making and improve our reactions to others. Ask yourself 5 questions:
- What category of emotion am I feeling?
- What is the signal from this emotion? (i.e., gain, loss, harm)
- Is the signal accurate?
- What are some alternatives to my usual reaction to this?
- What is the best of those alternatives?
Emotions are important. Don’t ignore them! Figure out what your emotions are communicating and then add some thought into the mix. You can make better decisions and have better relationships.