Feelings And Emotions
Their Nature, Significance, And Importance
In my earlier article on, "Feelings," and the two even earlier technical articles on the nature of emotions, "Emotions," and, "Desires," the emphasis was on understanding the psychological and physical nature of feelings, emotions, and desires. In this article the emphasis is on the importance of feelings, as our means of enjoying life, and how we can ensure our feelings are a source of joy and not suffering.
What Are Feelings And Emotions
If our feelings are going to be a means of enjoying life we need to understand exactly what they are, what causes them, and what we can do to ensure we have feelings appropriate to a life of success and happiness.
The first thing we must understand is that feelings are not mysterious things that come on us for no reason or purpose. Our feelings have very distinct causes and very specific purposes.
To understand the cause of our feelings we must know which of two kinds of feelings we are talking about.
All Feelings Are Physical Feelings
When we think about what we are conscious of we usually think about what we perceive externally, what we see, hear, feel, smell and taste, but we are also conscious of our bodies internally. The name of that kind of perception is called interoception and we have two kinds of internal feelings. The difference in the two kinds of feelings is what causes them.
The first kind of internal feelings are caused directly by the physiological states of the body and include nausea, fatigue, hunger, air hunger (shortness of breath), physical pain, excitement, feverishness, restlessness and more that we are all familiar with.
The second kind of internal feelings are caused by whatever we are conscious of: what we are perceiving externally, that is seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, or smelling and all that we are thinking. Those feelings are called emotions and are how the body reacts to whatever we are conscious of.
Emotional feelings include joy, ecstasy, fear, (and variations such as panic and terror) nostalgia, anxiety, sadness, grief, frustration, apathy, affection, antipathy, content, discontent, anger, nausea, hate, rage, confidence, enthusiasm, excitement, pride, and more. Notice that some emotional feelings have the same name as some physiological feelings, like nausea and excitement. Though the feelings may be very similar the difference is their cause. One may be nauseated because of an infection of the stomach (physiological feeling) or because they suddenly become conscious of something disgusting (emotion).
There is, in fact, a set of biological systems, including the limbic system, the vagus nerve, the endocrine system and the autonomic nervous system, that are responsible for both the physiological feelings and the emotions and our awareness of them. "The Emotional Nervous System," provides a very good overview of those systems.
Why Do We Have Emotions?
It is obvious why we have feelings of our internal states with physiological causes. They are how we know if everything is going on as it should in our bodies or whether we might have some kind problem that is causing us to feel ill, or feverish, as well as those feelings that let us know we need to eat, need to breath, or have other biological needs that need tending.
Why we have emotional feelings is not so obvious and a great deal is written and taught about the emotions that is not true just because their nature is not understood.
All that we know about the world, reality, even the physical aspects of ourselves is what we know about what we are directly conscious of, what we see, hear, feel, smell, taste, and sense about our own bodies. Even though our knowledge is about those things, they matter to us, because we are directly conscious of them. The apple tree we know about is enjoyed not in our knowledge of it but in seeing it, and smelling it when it blossoms, and enjoying the fruit of it when we eat it.
"But don't we enjoy the beauty of the tree, and isn't a kind of pleasure in knowing about how apple trees grow from apple seeds and how to prune and keep them healthy." Of course there is pleasure in the trees' beauty and in our knowledge about them. But those pleasures are not directly perceived. It is our emotions that make it possible to enjoy those things.
It is our direct perception of the world that is our means of actually experiencing and enjoying it. The pleasure of direct experience is all the beautiful and interesting things we see, the lovely sounds, voices, and music we hear, all the soft and interesting textures we feel, every delicious thing we taste and all the lovely aromas we enjoy. That directly perceived pleasure includes the physiological feelings of rest, comfort, a full stomach, and vigorous health.
It is of course our consciousness that makes all experience and its pleasure possible. The one thing we are not conscious of is consciousness itself. Consciousness is perception, but we cannot perceive consciousness itself, that is, we cannot see, hear, feel, taste or smell it and we cannot perceive internally. We know we are conscious, not by perceiving it, but by being conscious, just as we know we see, not by seeing our seeing, but by actually seeing.
We are conscious of everything we perceive, internally and externally, as well as all of our thinking, but we are only conscious of thinking intellectually. We know what we are thinking, because we do it, but there is no perceptual experience of our thoughts.
Nevertheless, we do have a way of experiencing our thoughts as perceptions. We cannot see or hear or smell or taste them, but indirectly, we feel them as the emotions that are how our bodies respond to what we are thinking and conscious of at every moment.
How The Emotions Work
Everything we are conscious of at any moment will effect or emotions. Though both what we are perceiving and what we are thinking affect our emotions, what we are thinking is the direct cause of our emotions.
How the things we see, hear, feel, taste, and smell affect our emotions will be determined by what we think about them. If we see an animal we think is friendly or interesting, our accompanying feeling will be affection or curiosity, but if the animal is one we think is dangerous, or ugly, our feelings will be fear or revulsion.
The question is, "why do we have those feeling?" We could certainly know, intellectually, whether an animal is friendly or interesting without any feeling, and we could certainly know, intellectually, that an animal is dangerous or repulsive without any feeling, so what is the point of the feeling? Couldn't we do just as well without them, and since feelings are so often a cause of confusion and mistakes, perhaps we would do better without them.
Since feelings are only a reflection of what we already think, they certainly are not a source of knowledge. We do not know a dog is dangerous because of how we feel, the feeling is the result of what we have already thought and judged about the dog. (If we had made a different judgment, the feeling would have been a different one, even if it were the same dog.) But though we can make the judgment in our mind that a dog is dangerous we cannot directly perceive that judgment, we cannot feel it or directly experience it.
But emotionally we do experience that judgment. The emotions are our natures' way of making the abstract conscious processes of the mind directly perceived experiences just as if we could directly experience and "feel" our thoughts. The emotions make the untangible processes of our mind palpable. While our direct perception makes the whole universe available for our conscious enjoyment, our emotions make our intellects enjoyable in the same way.
The emotions are our nature's way of converting the abstract elements of conceptual consciousness, our concepts, values, and thoughts, into "physical" experiences. The emotions make our minds, as well as our bodies, sensuous.
Our Emotional World
As wonderful as our direct perceptual and experience and enjoyment of the world is, it is the world of our emotions, the sensuous experience of operations of our minds which is the greatest of human experiences and pleasures. All animals derive their pleasure from their perceptual experience of the world; only human beings derive their greatest pleasure and joys from their knowledge of that world, because only human beings have minds.
The emotions give us a running gauge on the state of our life. How we think about our life at any moment, whether explicit or implicit, is reflected by how we feel emotionally at that moment. If our evaluation of our life is one of satisfaction, if we regard what we are doing as what we should be doing to be successful as a human being, if we truly believe we are doing the best we can, our feelings will reflect that thinking with the emotion we call happiness.
Of course our judgment can be mistaken, and our behavior not be the best possible. The fact that one "feels" happy does not mean all is well, it only means one believes and thinks all is well. It is not our feelings that determine the true state of our being, only our reason can determine if how we are living is truly right.
If we have deceived ourselves about our course of life, reality will shortly correct that self-delusion, because one can delude their own mind, but no one can defy reality.
In reality, such self-delusion is rare and short-lived, because it is impossible to intentionally defy one's own knowledge. Even when one successfully evades their consciousness of the wrongness of their choices, their emotions will reflect that attempt at self deception as a kind of discomfort and lack of assurance which if prolonged becomes a feeling of desperation and despair.
Obviously our emotional experience is very complex, but it is also almost infinitely variable providing a continuous sensuous experience of our life. That emotional experience is our emotional world and is capable of being a world of happiness, of joy, and bliss, or a world of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and misery. Which emotional world is ours is determined entirely by what we choose to believe and to think and think about.
The Relationship Between Emotions And Reality
It is the reality of the material world in which we live, and the reality of our own natures as human beings that determine moral principles. Moral principles identify the relationship between human behavior and the consequences of that behavior determined by reality. They can only be known by being discovered, (not dictated or invented), and they describe the only way, in principle, human life can be lived happily and successfully.
[NOTE: The article, Principles, describes ten basic moral principles which are fully described in the series of articles beginning with "Must Choose."]
Our ethical views, what we believe is morally right and wrong, affect all our thinking. They determine how we evaluate our own choices as being correct or not and whether or not our behavior is morally right or wrong. Our emotional sense of moral status, mistakenly called conscience, is what we feel our moral worth is, based on what we believe moral human behavior is, and how well we conform to our own moral views.
The problem with, "conscience," is it only reflects how well we follow our own moral views. If our own moral views are wrong, conscience will not be a bother, no matter how morally wrong our behavior is, so long as our behavior conforms to what we believe is morally right. If one's moral views are wrong, that is, if they are not consistent with the requirements of reality, our, "moral," conscience-free behavior will be in defiance of reality, and no matter how "good" we feel about it, immoral behavior in defiance of reality is the road to disaster and failure.
Our emotional world should be a world of pleasure and enjoyment resulting from beliefs and thinking based on reality and our knowledge that how we are living our lives is right, because it is determined by right thinking, right choices, and right behavior.
Why Do Emotions Seem Ineffable
One reason for this article is to counter much of the mystery that surrounds the nature of the emotions mostly perpetrated by psychologists and philosophers. Our feelings do have an almost ethereal or ineffable quality about them that psychologists have taken advantage of to distort the true nature of the emotions. But there is nothing mysterious about our emotions; they do not have unidentifiable causes like the subconscious, repressed desires, inborn inherited defects, or any mystical or supernatural origin.
Then why do the emotions sometimes sometimes seem to, "just be there;" why do we have feelings we do not know the cause of or feelings we cannot readily identify?
The reason is not really difficult to understand. We know our emotions are actually our conscious perception of physical states and reactions of our bodies to what we think and believe, but most of those physiological reactions are quite general, sometimes involving one's entire anatomy. Unlike our perception of external objects, like people, rocks, rivers, and trees, our perception of changes in the lymbic, autonomic, and endocrine systems are very general and subtle. They are no less real feelings of real physical events, however. They are like all other interoception, like one's feeling of feverishness when sick, or dizziness from inner ear problems, specific feelings without having a specific location, shape, size, or cause. Physiologists can describe what actually causes feverishness and dizziness, but those causes are not apparent from the feelings themselves. We can describe what actually causes our feelings but those causes are not obvious from the feelings themselves. How our emotions, "work," and what causes them must be discovered and identified before they can be understood.
Of course that is the whole purpose of this article, to remove the whole field of emotions from the realm of the mysterious which so many psychological and social quacks take advantage of, and to make the nature of emotions and their causes understood, so we can be in control of our emotional world, not under the control of feelings and desires we know neither the cause or reason for.
When Emotions Can Tell Us Something
There is nothing wrong with feeling, "bad," when what we are thinking about is bad. Feeling, "good," in such cases would indicate a problem, most likely with one's values or one's thinking.
When there are feelings for which there is no explanation that can be identified, in other words, when we feel something like, "fear," or, "panic," but are not thinking of anything we identify as dangerous or threatening, the feelings are usually caused physiologically but are so similar to feelings we've come to associate with fear or panic, we think that is what we are feeling. Menopausal women frequently have such feelings which are induced physiologically by changes in their hormones. There are other physiological causes for such feelings like those experienced by people on large dosages of cortizone or prednisone. It even has a name, steroid psychosis, but the name is mystaken; the feelings are not psychotic, they are strictly physiological and identifying them as psychological is a misidentification.
When there are feelings which we cannot identify a reason or cause for, it indicates that something is wrong, especially when the feelings are unpleasant or a cause of worry. It is an indication, like pain, that something is not right. The cause may be physiological, as just described, but might be psychological, that is, determined by wrong or unrealistic thinking. The latter case is rare. Bad feelings and disturbing emotions are always the consequence of wrong or unrealistic thinking, but the relationship between the thinking that causes the feelings and those feelings is usually easy to identify. In very rare cases, it may take some very rigorous attention to one's own thinking and beliefs to discover what the wrong thinking is that is the cause of one's unpleasant feelings.
Feelings And Happiness
Happiness is not a feeling. Happiness is knowing you are living your life successfully, that all you do conforms to the requirements of reality and the requirements of your own nature, that you are worthy of your life and your enjoyment of it, because you have earned it and have made of yourself the best person you can be.
The feeling that results from that thinking is happiness and that emotion is always the dominant emotion of the moral individual.
No one "feels" happy all the time, however. The feeling of happiness, like all feelings, depends on what is dominating one's consciousness at any moment. There will always be times when the present situation is not perfect, even troublesome, and so long as one is dealing with problems, and their thinking is dominated by those problems, there will probably be little, "feeling," of happiness. Sometimes, in the midst of one's lowest states, just stopping to asses one's own life outside of present circumstances restores that wonderful sense of being in control, no matter what those circumstances are, and the "feeling" of happiness appropriate to that evaluation is restored.
The feelings that accompany one's love are among the most sublime of emotions, but no matter how much one loves another, the, "feelings," will not always be very profound, if felt at all, even though the love is as strong as ever. How many mothers whose love for their children is immeasurable, when sick or swamped with temporary problems or annoyed with a child's incessant misbehavior have feelings that are not anything like love. They certainly do not love their children any less and the only thing that has changed is the feeling, which, when the mind is free to contemplate their love, will again dominate.
One of the greatest mistakes lovers make is confusing the feelings of love with love itself. If the feeling of love seems to fade or go away, and one believes love itself has faded or gone away, it is likely there never was any love and the feelings they experienced and thought were love were really infatuation, fascination, obsession, or lust.
Those in love do not always feel very loving, but if the love is real, no situation or circumstance can diminish their love, no matter how unloving they may feel, and when the situation or circumstance has passed, or they come to understand what it is, the feelings of love always return when their life and minds are free to contemplate what is truly of value to them.