In this post we’ll unpack the subject of emotions, including why we have emotions and how they influence our behaviours, the three forces that control our emotional states, how our state determines our destiny and more.
Why Do We Have Emotions?
Emotions are signals that serve as an internal compass to guide us towards the actions we need to take in order to achieve our goals. More simply, feelings are feedback.
Positive emotions signal to us that we are aligned with our goals. Negative emotions signal to us that we are misaligned with our goals.
The Evolutionary Perspective
From an evolutionary perspective, emotions evolved as adaptations to solve problems posed by survival and reproduction. In other words, emotions motivate behaviours that enhance our ability to survive and reproduce.
Positive emotions expand our awareness and drive us towards potential opportunities. Negative emotions contract our awareness and drive us away from potential threats.
For example, for our ancient ancestors, the sight of a sabre-toothed-tiger would have triggered the emotion we refer to as “fear” which in turn would have motivated them to instantly stop what they were doing and run away.
Similarly, eating a bad piece of food triggers the emotion we refer to as “disgust” which in turn immediately forces our throat to constrict to limit the amount of food that enters our stomach and our tongue to stick out to eject and prevent further ingestion of the offending food.
In short, those of our ancestors whose emotional system was most optimised to the environment of the times were more likely to live long enough to reproduce and pass on their genes.
Emotions Versus Feelings
The difference between emotions and feelings is that emotions are objective while feelings are subjective. Emotions are signals whose purpose is to enhance our survival. Feelings are our interpretations of our emotions.
How Emotions Guide Us
Your brain is ultimately designed to make you survive. Thus it’s constantly creating associations about what leads to pain and what leads to pleasure. These associations, generated from past experiences, are then used to predict the future and generate the necessary emotions needed to achieve a specific goal in a given environment.
“An instance of emotion, constructed from a prediction, tailors your action to meet a particular goal in a particular situation, using past experience as a guide.” ― Lisa Feldman Barrett
The 3 Forces That Control Your State
Happy people tend to view the world and engage in behaviours in a way that reinforces their happiness. Unhappy people tend to view the world and engage in behaviours in a way that reinforces their unhappiness.
For most people, their state is determined by their environment. However, the truth is that we can take control of how we feel in an instant.
There are three forces that control our emotional experience in any given moment ― known as the Emotional Triad. The three forces are:
- Physiology ― what we do with our body.
- Focus ― where we place our attention.
- Language ― how we communicate.
The best thing about these three forces is that they are entirely within our control. We can change any of them at will and when we do, we change our state.
“The quality of your life is determined by the quality of your emotions.”
How Your Emotions Determine Your Destiny
Our emotions control everything in our lives ― our thoughts, our perceptions, our actions and therefore ultimately our destiny.
A prime example of how our emotional state influences our perception is demonstrated in a study conducted by Yale University. As part of the study, students were invited to a lab to answer a questionnaire – they were unaware that they were part of an experiment.
On the way to the lab, the students were casually asked to hold either a hot cup of coffee or a cold cup of coffee ― this was the only variable. When they got to the lab, they were then asked to read the same brief description of “Person A” and rate 10 personality traits.
The researchers found that those who held hot coffee rated the person more generous, caring and sociable ― the characteristics of a warm hearted person ― than those who held cold coffee.
Thus, when we change our state, we change our fate.
How To Leverage Emotions
The key to leveraging emotions to our advantage is to generate emotions that align us with the actions necessary to achieve our goals and the quality of life we desire.
Emotions are constructed from predictions that the brain makes based on past experiences about what leads to pain and what leads to pleasure and serve to align us with the necessary actions in order to achieve a particular goal.
From an evolutionary perspective, emotions evolved as adaptations to drive our behaviours in a way that promote survival and reproduction.
Our emotions influence every thought we have, every decision we make and every action we take. Therefore, by understanding our emotional landscape, we can take control and be conscious architects of our own destiny.