Why do we have emotions?

Why do we have emotions?

e·mo·tion  əˈmōSH(ə)n/  noun

  1. A natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.

synonyms:       feeling, sentiment, reaction, response, passion, strength of feeling, warmth of feeling

  1. Instinctive or intuitive feeling as distinguished from reasoning or knowledge.

synonyms:       instinct, intuition, gut feeling, insight, sentiment, the heart

With this essay I am concerned with the first part of the definition.

Emotions from most primitive to higher:
  1. Base or Root Chakra Imbalance–FEAR – NO BREATH
  2. Sacral Chakra Imbalance–SORROW – STRONG INHALATION
  3. Solar Plexus Chakra Imbalance–ANGER – STRONG EXHALATION

Whenever I am feeling out of balance I try to remember to check my breathing.

Negative Emotion:  Win-Lose Situations

Fear, sorrow, and anger; with all possible combinations; the SOS (saving of self) emotions concerned with self-preservation: These grew out of humankind’s life and death struggles. These are the triggers to the fight-or-flight response.

Positive Emotion: Win-Win Situations

Love and all higher emotions which are concerned with relationships to others: These grew out of humankind’s realizing that by cooperating with others we are more joyful and secure.

Misuse of Emotion:

Don’t use a negative emotion in what should be a win-win relationship building situation. If you are not presented with a life and death struggle negative emotions are not reasonable responses.

An example might be a debilitating fear of public speaking. The situation is clearly not a life and death struggle, but to let fear disable us is not reasonable.

Flow: No Emotion; Total Absorption

According to positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, there is a state known as flow, a state of complete immersion in an activity.

He describes the mental state of flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Pleasure vs Gratification (self vs outside of self)

There is a principle referred to in Dr. Martin Seligman’s book “Authentic Happiness”; the difference between “pleasure” and “gratification.”

In summary, Pleasure is an immediate and momentary bodily delight (like chocolate) whereas Gratification is engaging, intellectual pursuits wherein we get long term enjoyment (like raising children, doing good for others, and hobbies). Following pleasure leads us in circles, always seeking more pleasure. Following gratification leads us to enrichment and well-being.

Origin and Etymology of gratify – Middle French gratifier, from Latin gratificari to show kindness to, from gratus + -ificari, passive of -ificare –ify.  First Known Use: 1539. Both “gratitude” and “congratulate” trace back to the Latin root “gratus,” meaning “pleasing, agreeable, thankful.” We also find “gratus” in the roots of “grateful” and “agree.”

Pleasures (self):

Pleasures involve more of a passive enjoyment of the bodily senses.  Listening to birds.  Enjoying a good meal.  Appreciating music.  It can be more active:  bicycle riding, gardening, and hiking through a beautiful forest.  But its best done slowly, savoring, and stretching to maximize the pleasure.

Gratifications (outside of self):

A gratification is something you enjoy doing, but it challenges you.  You get totally engaged in the activity.  You have to use your physical, spiritual, and or intellectual “muscles” to do the activity with excellence.  It leaves you feeling very satisfied, competent, and accomplished but you might not feel any emotion while it is going on because you are so “in the zone”(see Flow above).

Appreciation and Gratitude:

These magnify positive experiences and give them greater influence in our lives.

Rewrite your negative experiences by envisioning (imagining) the experience in more positive terms.

Acceptance of emotions:

This means examining your emotions as they happen and owning them.

Some Psychologists tell us that the ratio of positive to negative emotions should be 2:1. Anything less than 2:1 will lead to depression.

Pessimism (negative):

Pessimists are 8 times more likely to become depressed than optimists.

Compulsive self-absorption leads to depression.

“Learned helplessness, in psychology, a mental state in which an organism forced to bear aversive stimuli, or stimuli that are painful or otherwise unpleasant, becomes unable or unwilling to avoid subsequent encounters with those stimuli, even if they are “escapable,” presumably because it has learned that it cannot.” Google search

Optimism (positive):

“Learned optimism is the idea in positive psychology that a talent for joy, like any other, can be cultivated. It is contrasted with learned helplessness. Learning optimism is done by consciously challenging any negative self-talk.” Google search

Attitudes about situations we are in can lead to pessimism or optimism:

You need to learn to consciously question your attitude about a situation and if it is negative argue against it to yourself.

Permanence (time):

Is my attitude Permanent or Temporary?

Optimistic people believe bad events to be temporary and bounce back quickly from failure, whereas pessimists may take longer periods to recover or may never recover. Optimistic people believe good things happen for reasons that are permanent, rather than seeing the transient nature of positive events. Optimists point to temporary causes for negative events; pessimists point to permanent causes.

Pervasiveness (space):

Is my attitude Specific or Universal?

Optimistic people compartmentalize helplessness (specific), whereas pessimistic people assume that failure in one area of life means failure in life as a whole (universal). Optimistic people also allow good events to brighten every area of their lives rather than just the specific area in which the event occurred.

Personalization (self):

Is my attitude Personal or Non-personal?

Optimists blame bad events on causes outside of themselves, whereas pessimists blame themselves for events that occur. Optimists are therefore generally more confident. Optimists also quickly internalize positive events while pessimists externalize them.

Happening + Value = Experience

Experience noun /ɪkˈspɪər·i·əns/

(The process of getting) knowledge or skill that is obtained from doing, seeing, or feeling things, or something that is happening; which has an effect on you:

The value in a lot of experiences is emotional.

Crying occurs with both positive and negative emotions.

Crying can be a good indicator of strong emotions.

There can be the crying of deep sorrow; which might point to working through the sorrow.

There can be the crying of deep awe or rapture; which might point to increasing appreciation and gratitude.


I have given you a lot to think about and hopefully some ways you can improve your well-being.

Dr. Martin Seligman’s book “Authentic Happiness” and Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s concept of “Flow” have been great inspirations in my life.