Why are most emotions negative?

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Why are most emotions negative?

Post by Bootlebat on Thu Jun 21, 2018 2:17 am

When you think about it love and happiness are the only ones that feel good. The rest, like hate, anger, sadness, fear, disgust, guilt etc all feel bad.

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Re: Why are most emotions negative?

Post by Enail on Thu Jun 21, 2018 12:30 pm

Hm. Interesting question. Excited feels good, curious feels pretty good, proud feels good, determined feels good. "Safe" or "peace of mind" or "calm" (or is "calm" different from "peace of mind?"), something like that might be a feeling, if fear is, in which case that feels good too. But it does seem like it's easier to think of unpleasant ones than pleasant.

OTOH, the way we divide and label emotions isn't inherent to them or the only way we could categorize them. I'm not sure if we don't just subdivide the unpleasant ones more so they feel more distinct to us, while keeping most of the enjoyable things a person can feel under the broad label of "happiness" so they only count for one. And also notice them more - a lot of the emotions that are more unpleasant to experience are warnings of something wrong and potentially dangerous in some form or another, so it seems fairly natural that we'd focus on them more as the most critical - a flashing red warning light is more critical to pay attention to than a bright green "everything's okay" light.
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Re: Why are most emotions negative?

Post by KMR on Thu Jun 21, 2018 5:42 pm

Enail wrote:OTOH, the way we divide and label emotions isn't inherent to them or the only way we could categorize them. I'm not sure if we don't just subdivide the unpleasant ones more so they feel more distinct to us, while keeping most of the enjoyable things a person can feel under the broad label of "happiness" so they only count for one.

This is a good point. And we do have other words that we can use to describe positive feelings, like "contentment" "joy" "excitement" or "pleasure," and while we sometimes just think of these as varying degrees or sub-categories of happiness, they do have their own distinct connotations. Also, a lot of the negative feelings that were listed can overlap in various situations. Feeling "upset" can have connotations of both anger and sadness, for instance. Disgust can lead to hate (e.g. "those people disgust me") or it can lead to anger over an injustice (e.g. "I'm disgusted by the way those people are being treated, it needs to stop").

A lot of it really comes down to how we use language to describe and define emotion, which is cultural and socialized. Emotions have both a physiological component and a cognitive component, and a number of psychologists now theorize that the way we experience emotion is that the physiological component occurs first, then our brains try to interpret and process what those physiological signals mean after the fact. Sometimes it's situational; a rising heart rate could be interpreted as a sign of fear if you're about to give a presentation but might be interpreted as excitement instead if you're on a date. Sometimes cultural expectations affect how we understand our emotions. For instance, ever since I was a kid, I tended to cry pretty easily in certain situations, and we tend to equate crying with sadness, so most people assumed I was either too sensitive or possibly depressed. That never felt quite right to me, but I didn't know any other way to process these reactions, so I was always just left confused and would get upset at myself for crying over things that didn't seem worth crying about. It wasn't until just a few years ago that I realized that crying was my response to anxiety in particular situations, and recontextualizing it that way made a big difference in how I came to understand these experiences.

But as to the original question of "why are most emotions negative?" I would say emotions are... complex. And even using words like "positive" and "negative" to describe them gets kind of tricky, since it ignores context. After all, fear doesn't feel very good, but it isn't quite so negative when it helps you get away from a dangerous, potentially life-threatening situation. But if you think about the average person living in the developed world, they aren't going to be in a lot of life-threatening situations where fear can be adaptive. So we tend to think of fear in its other forms, such as having anxieties over situations that are fairly benign, like talking to strangers or public speaking, where the feelings of fear are usually maladaptive to accomplishing the task. On the other side, we think of love as a positive feeling, but when it's unrequited it can be very painful, and some people in that situation wish they could be rid of their feelings of love so they can just move on. Love can also lead to some pretty impulsive and not-always-good-for-us decision-making. So I think impact is as important a consideration as the experiential aspect when we think about whether an emotion can be described as "negative" or "positive."
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Re: Why are most emotions negative?

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