Emotions vs. Feelings – Searching for the Right Balance

Emotions vs. Feelings – Searching for the Right Balance

Woman dancing at Mindvalley Afest

When it comes to emotions vs feelings, what’s the difference? Here’s how the science of psychology separates these two phenomena.

Emotional insight really comes from learning to understand your emotions.

— Jon Butcher, author of Mindvalley’s Lifebook Online Quest

Many people neglect their emotions. They fail to grasp the importance of the inner currents which have the power to both push them forward or stop them in their tracks. 

And it’s not uncommon for people to confuse emotions versus feelings. Knowing the difference will help you learn to cope with difficult feelings and emotions.

But first, you’ll need to be able to tell the difference between the two.

What Are Feelings?

What are feelings?

Feelings are the different ways you experience emotions. They are affected by personal beliefs and memories. But they’re also influenced by neurotransmitters and hormones. 

For example, serotonin is responsible for feelings of happiness. While dopamine helps us feel accomplishment and enthusiasm.

On the other hand, norepinephrine is released into your bloodstream when the brain processes a stressful event. It allows your body to pay more attention and properly respond to stress. 

Now, let’s look at the flip side of this equation and examine our emotions.

Women enjoying life
Participants at Mindvalley’s A-Fest 2018 in Sardenia

What Are Emotions?

Emotions are felt in the brain. They act as a response to a situation, followed by a biochemical reaction that changes your physical state. 

Emotions are universal responses to positive or negative triggers. Everyone experiences emotions. But the type and frequency with which we experience them aren’t the same. 

If we really want to answer the question: what are emotions? we need to dive into the realm of psychology.

In psychology, there are two ways to describe emotions. 

The first emotion theory is called cognitive appraisal theory. It suggests that our emotions are our natural response to a life event.  For example, we might complete a goal and feel happy, or we might fail and feel sad.

William James, a famous American philosopher, and psychologist developed the second theory of emotions. He suggested that emotions represent bodily changes.

Variations in perspiration, breathing, heart rate, and hormone levels can all cause different emotions. According to his view, happiness, sadness, and anger are just psychological perceptions.

Are There Any Universal Emotions?

Emotion psychologist, Paul Ekman suggests that there are 6 universal emotions. They are happiness, surprise, fear, anger, sadness, and disgust. Each of these emotions corresponds to a particular facial expression and physical response.

  1. Happiness comes with a smile, relaxed body language, and a pleasant tone of voice.
  2. When you feel sadness, the corners of your mouth turn down and you may cry.
  3. Fear corresponds with wide eyes and a withdrawn chin. 
  4. With disgust, the upper lip curls, and the nose wrinkles. You might even feel the physical need to retch or vomit.
  5. Anger is associated with narrowed eyes, a furrowed brow, and clenched fists.
  6. The surprise is displayed as an open mouth with raised brows. You may also gasp or shriek.
Man and woman

Emotional States

Psychology defines an emotional state as a type of arousal. It can manifest as physiological changes and feelings.

Feelings, on the other hand, represent a long-lasting emotional state.

As opposed to the physical manifestations of emotions like crying and laughing, emotional states like grief or fear might not be reflected in your actions or appearance.

Is there a difference between emotions and feelings?

The simple answer is: yes. Timing is what separates emotions vs feelings. 

Emotions precede feelings and don’t last as long. That’s because feelings are enhanced by thoughts, images, and memories.

While emotions are universal and instinctual, feelings are not. Your personality and prior experiences shape your feelings. So, feelings vary widely from person to person.

Is love a feeling or emotion?

Contrary to popular belief, love is not an emotion, regardless of its use in pop culture. Love may feel instinctual at times, but it’s more closely linked with the feeling of infatuation.

In the beginning stages of infatuation, we may feel surprised, anxious, jealous, and euphoric – sometimes all at once! But this isn’t true love. Not at its core. 

Long-term love is a conscious choice, which makes it a feeling. It’s not gut instinct, it’s a decision we make based on our prior experiences.

What do different emotions mean?

Emotions are our body’s reaction to an event that triggers a response.

You may feel fear when faced with danger. Or, you might feel joyful when things are going well and you have a strong sense of inner peace, safety, and well-being. 

Emotions bring us fully into the present moment. When we’re aware of what’s going on around us, we feel the push and pull of our emotional states. 

Different circumstances stir up different emotional responses. And depending on our past experiences, we may be more or less inclined to experience specific feelings as a result. 

What are the 8 human emotions?

It’s not easy to nail down the basic human emotions. Because it often feels like there are too many to name! 

But psychologists have been working on this dilemma for decades. And today, we have a sound theory that summarizes basic human emotions.

Psychologist Paul Ekman identified 6 universal emotions. However, another prominent psychologist Robert Plutchik suggests there may actually be as many as 8 basic human emotions.

Plutchik grouped the 8 essential emotions into four pairs: anger-fear, happiness-sadness, surprise-anticipation, and trust-distrust. 

Final Thoughts

Emotions and feelings are two sides of the same coin. And they go hand in hand to allow you to cope with all sorts of situations.

That said, your feelings and emotions can sometimes lead you astray, potentially causing harm to your psychological well-being. 

This is why it’s important to grasp the full scope of how different emotions may make you feel. This way, you can navigate the shifting emotions and feelings you experience on a daily basis.

Written by
Irina Yugay