You’ve probably heard the expression “a roller coaster of emotions,” and it’s a pretty accurate description of what’s possible in a given day. The list of emotions that are experienced by humans on a daily basis are complex.
But don’t be fearful because not only is it normal to experience numerous feelings, it’s expected.
Although all humans wonder how to be happy, seemingly negative emotions have helped humans survive dangerous situations. Neurotransmitters in our brains adjust to circumstances so that our bodies can react appropriately.
It’s when we deal with chronic negative emotions that our health is in jeopardy, but there are ways to regulate emotions and pinpoint emotional triggers — allowing you to stay in control of your mental and physical health.
What Are Emotions?
Emotions are instinctive states of mind or feelings that are derived from a person’s circumstances. Within the brain, they are stimulated by a movement of neurotransmitters in response to stimuli.
Researchers suggest that our basic emotions have been hardwired into us since primitive times, when the emotions of our ancestors evolved in response to everyday challenges. Really, these basic emotions are in place as a means of survival.
They are triggered automatically, unconsciously and quickly during certain situations.
A popular concept is that there’s a basic list of emotions, pointing out the primary and primitive emotions that humans experience daily. These serve as the building blocks of more complex emotions.
Scientists in the field have varying opinions about what can be labeled as basic versus what are more complex or uncommon. Here’s a quick roundup of the scientific theories out there regarding primary emotions:
- In the 1870s, Charles Darwin suggested that all humans (and some animals) express emotions through remarkably similar behaviors. He expressed that they are separate discrete entities. He also focused on facial expressions, or the visible, but temporary changes in appearance.
- In the 1890s, German physician Wilhelm Wundt (who is known as the “father of psychology”) described different emotions or feelings as classes, rather than single processes. He pointed out that emotions such as joy, hope, anxiety, care and anger are not concrete in their descriptions and vary greatly from time to time, depending on the circumstance.
- In the 1970s, Paul Ekman identified six basic emotions, including anger, fear, disgust, sadness, happiness and surprise.
- In 1980, Robert Plutchik discussed eight core emotions, plus eight derivative ones that are constructed of two basic ones. His theory is that complex emotions are a mixture of two primary emotions. He came up with a “wheel of emotions” that looks like a color wheel to explain this visually. When two basic emotions mix, they create a new color or complex emotion.
This, of course, doesn’t touch on every theory, but it does show the progression of thought. In a nutshell, after pinpointing the most common, or basic emotions, researchers agreed that they exist along a gradient and sometimes in combination with other emotions.
List of Emotions
When researching emotions in psychology, many articles discuss the work of Paul Ekman, a leading scientist in the field who has worked to pinpoint a list of emotions.
When Ekman surveyed over 100 scientists who research them, he found that emotional labels were empirically established, with high agreement on five basic emotions:
Other ones in the list of emotions that were endorsed by 40 percent to 50 percent of scientists as basics were shame, surprise and embarrassment.
Within the five types of emotions list, there are several complex ones and even facial expressions, so let’s dive a little deeper into each one on the main list of emotions for a better understanding.
Let’s start with the most debated basic emotion, anger. It may be difficult to detect during development, and it can be directed both inwardly and outwardly.
Although it’s often considered a negative emotion, anger is normal and necessary for survival. It allows humans to defend themselves during dangerous or toxic situations.
A list of emotions associated with anger include feeling:
Fear is caused by a perceived risk of safety and for the safety of others. The endocrine and autonomic nervous systems prepare the body to face danger, triggering the “freeze, flight, fight, fright” reactions that occur in the face of fear.
This is a normal, necessary emotional reaction that allowed our ancestors to deal with everyday dangers and threats.
Research highlights that a person’s perception and reaction of fear depends on his or her personality and mental health status. For example, a person who struggles with severe anxiety experiences greater levels of fear, even if the threat is considered less fearful by others.
Feelings that are associated with fear include being:
Thought to emerge when our ancestors were triggered by potentially harmful foods, disgust is a strong disapproval and rejection of something offensive.
Feelings of disgust come about after experiencing something unpleasant, whether it’s a smell, sight or thought.
Feelings of disgust can also be described as:
Ekman describes sadness as a basic emotion that occurs when one loses a valued person, fails to achieve a goal or loses a sense of control. Research discussing the numerous expressions of sadness indicates that it can cause tears, chest aches and feelings of powerlessness.
It’s completely normal to feel sadness, and every one of these basic emotions, from time to time. It’s chronic sadness that impacts your daily life that becomes problematic.
Feelings associated with sadness include being:
Since Aristotle, happiness has been described as an emotion that consists of pleasure and a well-lived life (or meaning). Of course, everyone strives for happiness, but what actually makes us happy differs depending on our culture and expectations.
Happiness is known to be highly individualized, as a person’s state of contentment is associated with his “wanting” and “liking,” according to researchers.
Some words that are commonly used to describe feelings of happiness include:
Beyond this list of emotions, researchers agree that there are others that deserve research and recognition. They include:
How Emotions Affect Us
Emotions are related to the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. These chemical messengers, like dopamine and serotonin, are released when the brain receives happy news, giving you that light and warm feeling that comes with this basic emotion.
On the other hand, a drop in these neurotransmitters causes sadness and the heaviness that comes with this emotion.
It’s completely normal for neurotransmitter levels to increase and decrease throughout the day in response to your experiences and thoughts. In fact, emotions help keep us out of danger and allow us to stay connected socially, which is so important for survival.
The most common neurotransmitters involved in positive and negative emotions include:
Although a shift in these neurotransmitters is normal and expected, chronic negative emotions can have a major impact on your health. Negative emotional states cause stress on the body, leading to increased inflammation, higher risk of mental health issues and weakened immune function.
Research published in Frontiers in Neuroscience advises that psychological stress triggers inflammatory activity and cognitive changes. Chronic sadness, for example, plays a significant role in the onset and recurrence of depression.
To recap, a shift of emotions, from negative to positive, is normal, but when you experience negative ones chronically, it can have major health implications. This is exactly why you want to work to regulate your emotions and address the triggers of negative feelings.
How to Control Them
Being able to identify what you feel based on the list of emotions helps you control them or deal with them appropriately. This usually takes mindfulness and reflection.
Pay close attention to the physical signs of emotions, like sweating palms and racing heart for fear, body aches for sadness, and increased body temperature for anger.
Reflect on Emotional Triggers
The root of emotions aren’t always obvious — they can stem from deeper issues or insecurities. If you are confused about why you feel a particular emotion, investigate the potential triggers.
It may actually stem from an unexpected source, like being tired, missing a friend or family member, being hungry, or eating an unhealthy meal.
Practicing mindfulness, which is a mental state achieved by focusing on your awareness at the present moment, helps you understand and accept your feelings. This moment-by-moment awareness makes it easier to detect and understand your emotions.
Research shows that mindfulness-based interventions have positive effects on psychological well-being.
How do you practice mindfulness? One of the best ways is mindfulness meditation, which allows you to focus on the feelings in your body.
Any other moments of quiet reflection are helpful, like taking a walk outdoors, practicing yoga, gardening and cooking.
Mindfulness or quiet reflection can help you work through your feelings, calm your mind and regulate your feelings.
Take Care of Yourself
It’s normal to experience uncontrollable emotions from time to time, as you are faced with a positive or negative situation. To control your everyday feelings, self-care is key.
How can you understand and regulate your feelings if you aren’t tuned in to yourself and taking care of your health?
Your self-care checklist should include aspects related to your physical, social, mental, spiritual and environmental health.
Are you eating a healthy, balanced diet, getting enough rest, moving your body, engaging with loved ones, spending time in reflection and spending time outdoors? These are just some of the actions you should take every day to promote your overall wellness.
- The list of basic emotions has been debated and researched for centuries. Scientists seem to agree that there are five primary ones: anger, fear, disgust, sadness and happiness.
- This list of negative and positive emotions is triggered by stimuli that alter neurotransmitter levels in the brain. This is normal and necessary biological process, and it’s in place to ensure human survival.
- When humans experience chronic negative feelings, they deal with serious repercussions, such as an increased risk of mental, physical and social health problems.
- To regulate your feelings, practice mindfulness, identify your feelings and their triggers, and make self-care a priority.