Emotions and feelings: guiding lights of your life.

Emotions are natural energies which arise to help us respond in situations. If we are unjustly accused of something, anger might help craft an action in response to the accusation. As we watch a small child playing gleefully in a puddle of water, joy within might evoke a smile, chuckle, or perhaps hearty laughter. Witnessing the death of a loved one might bring forth tears of sadness.

When we are asked, "How do you feel today?", in many groups in the American society the anticipated response is a word or phrase – typically something like “good” or “fine”, which might not actually reflect what we feel. Like the colour palette artists use, the banner image on this page reminds us of a kaleidoscope of options.

Emotions affect our biochemistry. The feeling of fear releases a potpourri of hormones through our body, such as adrenaline which triggers physiological reactions. Internal physical sensation is part of emotion, and what we feel within ourselves  varies with the emotion.

When I reflect on the power of emotion, one memory that surfaces is what happened as individuals expressed anger and hatred during the South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s hearings in the mid to late 1990s. Before an audience bearing witness in an environment supportive of uncovering the truth rather than prosecution, individuals had the opportunity to release existing emotions and come to terms with their past with a transformed sensation of peacefulness and forgiveness. Revealing is healing.

Healthy individuals and communities recognize the need for the experience of emotion, allow emotional expression, and encourage responsibility for one's emotions.

Emotions shape and are shaped by our self-image, and they have a connection to our spirit. “Being fully alive in the present does not mitigate our vulnerability; it only makes us more aware of it. Vulnerability is about openness. Not only to pain, adversity, loss, and death, but also to the things we most desire and cherish: to love, intimacy, creativity, sex, birth, wonder; to being truly touched by another human being, being truly seen for who we are; to the sheer adventure of being alive; to the sacred spirit that imbues the world.... What vulnerability asks of us, ultimately, is not control of our emotions but transformation of our consciousness through emotional openness.” (Miriam Greenspan, Healing through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear and Despair)

Which emotions are your favorites?


  1. Cognition and Emotion web article by Dr. Luiz Pessoa in Scholarpedia
  2. Emerging Perspectives on Emotion-Cognition Interactions article by K. N. Ochsner & E. Phelps in TRENDS in Cognitive Science Vol. 11 No. 8 (2007)

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