What are Emotions?

Darryl Bachmeier
Jun 10, 2020

What are emotions? Happy, sad, angry, worried faces.

A Unique Configuration

As humans we have been uniquely configured to exhibit behavioural patterns which reflect how we feel. The expression we give to life and how we see it is often determined by these feelings – that is, those happy moments when we feel ecstatic or those sad times when we feel as if our world is crumbling.

In fact, our reactions to stimulus generated from our internal environment – our minds and our thoughts; and our external environment (people and situations around us); even, the hobbies and activities we choose to engage in, ride on the wings of these subjective inclinations – emotions,. In a nutshell, how we feel, act, react; what we perceive and the inferences we draw are products of our emotional state.

What is emotion?

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines emotion as a strong feeling deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others. Don and Sandra Hockenbury, authors of the book Discovering Psychology provides a lucid appreciation of the concept by conceiving it as a complex psychological state that involves three distinct components; a subjective experience, a physiological response and a behavioural or expressive response.

The aspect of subjective experience entails that emotion is universal, though the degree of expression varies from person to person. For instance, anger can be expressed as mild annoyance by one person and as a tempestuous outburst by another. Also, events like preparation for marriage or child birth produces series of varied emotions. While some may be happy at the thought, some others may be tensed up. It could also be expressed as a purgation of a blend of mixed reaction in some people. This makes emotion subjective to individual unique psychological build up.

Emotions produce physiological reactions. Have you ever felt goose bumps rising on your face and skin simply because you feel anxious? Or you’ve felt your heart drums beating ferociously because you are angry? These are examples of physiological reactions generated by your emotional state. Other physiological reactions include widening your brow, heaving a sigh of relief and nodding intermittently when no music is playing.

Behavioural response as a component of emotion is not far-fetched. It entails your reaction towards people around you stemming from how you feel and the perception of how are being treated. Behavioural reaction ranges from verbal and non-verbal cues during communication to physical expressions such as slapping, shaking hands and hugging. However, physical expressions of emotions can be deceptive. For instance, you could shake someone or hug a friend who you know is conspiring against you just to show maturity. This is suggestive that emotions can be manipulated.

There is also the dimension of Mixed or combined emotions in the discourse of emotions. This theory was pioneered by psychologist, Robert Plutchik who conceived “the wheel of emotions.” According to him, individuals are capable of producing strings of emotions simultaneously when responding to certain stimuli just like an painter produces shades of several colours. For instance, when one intends to develop love relationships, interplay of several emotion is seen. Such feeling as that of happiness, trust, joy and satisfaction are developed by an individual and expressed at the same time towards a singular intent - love.

Types of Emotions

Paul Eckman, an American psychologist, in his book Emotion In The Human Face published in 1972 identified six basic kinds of emotions which include; happiness, disgust, sadness, anger, surprise and fear. However, in 2003, he further identified shame, excitement, embarrassment and pride as types of emotions in his book Emotions Revealed. Let’s take the six basic types into consideration.


This is the most sought after feeling. Every activity of man tends towards this end. It is an emotional state that reflects a feeling of contentment, fulfillment or satisfaction; a purgation of joy and a favourable well-being. Happiness is mostly identified by physical expressions such as smiling and dancing, vibrancy, and a relaxed poise. Happiness can be derived from achievements, financial and emotional prosperity, marital bliss and pleasure-oriented activities. Although this form of happiness (pleasure related) is short lived – it expires as soon as that activity is over.


This feeling is associated with our sense of revulsion. It is an acute dislike for something that feels bad or that tastes nasty. For instance, dead things and smelly things, rotten food and dirt can trigger a feeling of disgust. It is strongly identified with nausea.


A sad state is characterized by grief, loss, hopelessness, dissatisfaction and unhappiness. It is transient state which happens occasionally to everyone. However, a perpetual state of sadness is not healthy for one’s mental health as it could lead to depression. Sadness is earmarked by quietness, disassociation from others, moodiness and being lachrymose.


This entails a feeling of hostility and strong displeasure towards somebody or something. Basically, anger can be precipitated by disobedience, distrust, betrayal, deceit, and pain. Feelings of anger provoke responses such as glaring or frowning, turning away or walking out on someone or yelling profusely. Also, it can instigate aggressive behaviours such as kicking, hitting and attacking others with objects.


This transient emotional state is a reaction to an unexpected event or an unprecedented turn of event. It could be positive – that is, in form of amazement or astonishment; or negative – as in shock. It is often revealed by verbal responses such as yelling; physical reactions such as jumping; and physiological reactions such as opening of one’s mouth, raising brows and widening eyes


This is derived from intimidating experiences. There is an instinct to survive in man, as such, when there are situations seemingly threatening to one’s survival, subconsciously, you fret and get scared. Fear is marked by physiological responses such as uneasiness, raised heartbeat and an inclination to hide.

Lastly, emotions rule our lives daily. Hence, you mustn’t allow them control and gain dominion over your life. You must learn to gain control of it. Develop a mastery of it today and always channel it towards positivity.

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