But Why Do We Have Emotions, Anyway?!

By Shea Daniels, LPCC-S

Emotions can be a lot of fun, like when we feel exhilaration or joy or love. Other times emotions are more ‘eh,’ like feeling bored. Sometimes emotions even feel not-so-great, like when we feel grief or terror. Forrest Gump got it right when he said that “Life is like a box of chocolates!” But if life is like a box of chocolates, why do we even have to have the artificial-strawberry-creme-that-sort-of-tastes-like-children’s-toothpaste emotions, anyway? To get to that answer, let’s talk more about food. Or at least kitchens. When you microwave a York Peppermint Patty, you get a weird but oddly tasty taffy-like peppermint treat. York Peppermint Patty + heat = delightful new treat. When you mix kool aid with water and leave out the sugar, you get a gross drink. It's gross to remind you something is amiss. Kool aid + water without sugar = ick. We know that adding things to a food, or changing its environment, changes the food itself. Stick with me for a moment here: emotions are much the same way.

Emotions are how our body responds to stimuli. Some stimuli are internal, like thoughts (the words we think in our mind). Other stimuli are external, like noise or skipping lunch or your kids leaving legos everywhere you want to walk shoeless. Our body is this incredibly complex system that takes in a ton of stimuli at any given time. We then have thoughts about that stimuli, aka our thoughts try to sort that data, and then the way we think about/sort that data results in our emotions. Emotions, to bring it full circle, are there to give us information about how our thoughts, and the situations we are in, impact us. If we see an adorable puppy video we’re probably going to say “Awwww” and have All The Warm Fuzzy Feelings (unless you don’t like dogs, which is totally fine!). If somebody is treating us poorly we’re probably going to have emotions that don’t feel so good, like discomfort or stress. Emotions are messengers to help us know more about the ways what’s happening impacts us.

Sometimes people view emotions as inconvenient and ignore them, which often leads to ignoring vast and important data about their lived experience. If we ignore that touching a hot stove hurts and keep touching the hot stove anyway the stove doesn’t get less hot…we just get more burnt! When our emotions feel painful or upsetting it might be because some things in life, even healthy things, feel painful or upsetting, like grief or healthy break ups. It’s okay to need support with healthy upsetting things, as an aside! Other times our emotions might be telling us something is amiss, much like how a sprained ankle causes us pain as an indicator it needs something to help it heal. Our emotions give us important information. That’s why it’s important to have them, honor them, and respond to them in healthy ways…even the artificial-strawberry-creme-that-sort-of-tastes-like-children’s-toothpaste emotions!

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