Emotions are fundamental to life. They create the highs and lows of our existence and are essential to the most meaningful experiences we have as humans.

Throughout history, much effort has been put into understanding emotions, how they arise, and their on the brain. As Fehr and Russell (1984, p. 464) wrote, “Everyone knows what an emotion is, until asked to give a definition. Then, it seems, no one knows.”

Emotions are complex, and they arise automatically, without thought or will. In fact, they are so automatic that we may not be conscious of what emotion we are experiencing. (1) Our feelings can fly under the radar of our awareness.

Eight fundamental emotions of the human psyche. Happy, tired, anxious, scared, angry, sad, shame, and envy. Learn more at WellnessTool.com.

The Eight Basic Emotions

Every emotion we experience can be traced back to a set of what are called “basic emotions.”

Many theories have been proposed outlining a range of basic emotions, with some theories having only four and some detailing as many as twelve. (2)

For our purposes, we can simplify them to these eight basic emotions.

Discover the eight fundamental emotions at WellnessTool.com
Tired / Bored
Anxious / Stressed
Discover the eight fundamental emotions at WellnessTool.com
Discover the eight fundamental emotions at WellnessTool.com
Angry / Mad
Discover the eight fundamental emotions at WellnessTool.com
Sad / Depressed
Discover the eight fundamental emotions at WellnessTool.com
Shy / Shame
Discover the eight fundamental emotions at WellnessTool.com
Envy / Jealous
Discover the eight fundamental emotions at WellnessTool.com

Of course, these are not the only emotions we experience. However, these eight emotions form a foundation, and their combinations and variations create the wide emotional range we feel. In addition, our interpretation and physical response to our emotions add another layer of complexity that can give rise to a different feeling entirely. (3)

For example, if a coworker does something that makes you angry, you may have the thought, “my coworker is rude and incompetent,” and your anger can become contempt.

Be kind. Learn to forgive.

How Emotional Intelligence Comes Into Play

Self-awareness is necessary to be able to identify which basic emotion you may be feeling, and is a key toward building emotional intelligence. It can also help break down complex emotions into their basic form. In other words, the more we can clarify and understand what we are feeling, the better able we will be to respond with awareness and intelligence. (4)

These eight fundamental emotions themselves are not necessarily positive or negative. How we respond to our emotions is what matters. A poorly considered reaction to a feeling of envy will turn a natural emotion into a destructive force.

The goal of emotional wellness is to identify our emotions, pause to consider the best way to respond, and then choose healthy action. Dealing with emotions in a mindful manner is the key to overall wellness.

How We Respond to Our Emotions Is What Matters.

Better mental health comes with forgiveness.

Turning Awareness Into Action

Identifying our emotions is the first step to emotional health. Using that awareness to thoughtfully determine our response is the next.

One way to do this is to choose a healthy response to an emotion by cultivating the “pause.” (5) This a mindfulness technique that allows for space between a stimulus, such as an emotion, and our reaction.

If pausing sounds too simple, know that it will likely take lots of practice to develop. The normal human instinct is to react out of impulse or habit, especially when it comes to emotions that feel particularly intense like anger or fear. This is a survival instinct from early human history when pausing could mean meeting an untimely end.

In modern times, most of the situations we find ourselves in are not life or death. Consequently, it is rarely necessary to act instantaneously. Build a habit of pausing when faced with an emotion as it is a wiser course of action.

Cultivating a Pause

When faced with an emotion practice moving through these steps:

  1. Identify the emotion. It is likely one of the eight basic emotions, so try to trace it back to its source.
  2. Pause and take a breath.
  3. Decide if a response is required. Sometimes it is more productive to acknowledge the emotion and then allow it to pass or choose a calming activity. You don’t have to let every emotion that comes up hijack your attention.
  4. If a response is necessary, act with intention and wisdom.
Pause and take a breath

Stop Reacting and Start Responding

We can’t avoid our emotions; we can only manage them. As a result, being emotionally intelligent and healthy means choosing appropriate actions even when our instinct is to react out of upset feelings.

In fact, understanding our basic fundamental emotions and identifying them creates the opportunity for us to pause and determine the right thing to do. We are not victims of our emotions, but neither do we have to be masters of them. Emotional wellness asks for our participation and to work with what we are feeling.

Emotions will arise, but how you respond is up to you.