Where Do Emotions Come From?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Designing the Mind" by Designing the Mind and Ryan A Bush. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you sometimes feel emotions you cannot explain? Where do emotions come from?

Emotions sometimes get the better of us, but we can learn to tame them and respond to emotional situations more rationally and effectively. To do that, we have to first understand what gives rise to our emotions.

Keep reading to learn where our emotional responses come from and how to deal with unexpected emotions.

How Emotions Form

Where do emotions come from? Emotions, more than anything else, drive us to act. If you have a poor emotional reaction to a situation, then your behavioral response will likely do more harm than good.

To begin controlling your emotions, you have to first understand how they form. Your rational thought processes mediate your emotional responses: Instead of responding with an emotion directly after you experience a stimulus (like an interaction with another person or a piece of news you receive), there’s a thought pattern in between the two that determines how you feel about the stimulus. Usually, if you judge that the outcome of the stimulus is desirable, you’ll experience positive emotions. If you judge that the outcome isn’t what you wanted, you’ll experience negative emotions. 

How to Identify the Source of Unexpected Emotions

Bush argues that emotions always stem from our thoughts, but what about situations when we feel an emotion and can’t pinpoint any thoughts or triggers that could’ve caused it? Sometimes, our brains trigger emotions unconsciously. Neurological studies show that the human brain picks up on a lot of information in our environment without our conscious awareness, meaning that we may unconsciously notice things that then inspire confusing emotional responses. 

If you experience an emotion and can’t figure out where it came from, ask yourself the following questions:

– Were the preceding events surprising or gratifying?
– Will what happened stand in the way of what I want, or will it help me achieve it?
– How much control do I have over what happens next?
– Do the events align with my belief in what’s right and what’s wrong?
– Were the preceding events my fault or someone else’s?

Studies show that thought patterns that prompt strong emotions typically answer these types of questions. As Bush asserts, if your answers to these questions work in your favor, you’ll probably experience positive emotions. If not, you’ll experience negative feelings.

Where Do Emotions Come From?

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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