What Is Emotion?

What is emotion?  Unfortunately, due to the fact that no one has defined emotion to our satisfaction yet, we are at a bit of a handicap.  However, their attempts help us grasp its meaning and get a glimpse of how complex it is. In the first place, emotion doesn’t give up its secrets or its design easily.  Hopefully, this article will make us think more deeply and profitably about what constitutes emotion.  To begin with, consider definitions such as those below that have provided some insight, though little clarity.

An emotion is a transformation of the world.
~ Jean Paul Sartre

What everyone forgets is that passion is not merely a heightened sensual fusion but a way of life which produces, as in the mystics, an ecstatic awareness of the whole of life.
~ Anais Nin, Diary, Vol. 5

Twelve Characteristics

Continuing our study, we’ll discuss twelve characteristics surrounding emotion, including especially its relationship and role in our temperaments, how emotions mutate, and the role of emotion in ethics. If you are on a fast track to finding out how to be intelligently emotional, you may want to jump ahead in my book, Intelligently Emotional, and come back to this later to fill in some of these illuminating and instructive details.

What Constitutes Emotion?

In particular, our study will seek to throw some light on such questions as:

  • How should we define emotion?
  • Why try to understand our emotions? What purpose is there in doing so?
  • Why do we have emotions?
  • How do they play out their role in our temperaments?
  • Why do some feelings last a lifetime?
  • Do emotions mutate and change?
  • How does emotion affect the building of our values?
  • Are emotions ethically neutral, since they seem to energize both good and bad decisions equally?


To begin, emotions seem to have attracted a great deal of criticism and, with it, much attention lately. Why have we given  emotions such a bad rap? Is it because their negative effects can be so destructive? As a result, people come to fear them.  Consequently, they want to get rid of them altogether. Let’s find out more about them.

“Emotion” Is Hard to Define.

What is emotion? Wow! That’s a difficult question. Even psychologists and philosophers can’t agree on emotion’s basic definition. Religions don’t define it either.

We just live with how we have been designed. Is that a bad thing? Not really.  It forces us to examine and discover at least a part of the meaning and purpose of our design.  That is, if we are concerned enough to understand ourselves better and the way we have been made. That understanding is the beginning of self-discovery and self-management, two tools used in becoming intelligently emotional.

Is It Necessary to Define What Emotion Is?

Perhaps this will help: if we are to make progress with managing and developing our emotions, a detailed definition will not be necessary. However, what will be needed is a defining battle as we personally struggle with the power and intricacies of emotion while all the time trying to make beneficial choices. It is in the struggle with our emotions that we come to our best understanding of them.

For Example, Consider Jamie’s Success:

After decades of fighting his emotions, Jamie became discouraged with ever finding out how to mange them successfully. “The older I get, the less I understand and the more I am baffled by my own feelings,” he complained. I encouraged him to keep struggling but not to approach the battle with the belief that he was making no progress. “Open your mind to the possibility that you can understand them and master them,” I suggested.

Some months later, he reported first to himself and then to me that he felt he was making progress. He could select the emotion he wanted more easily and end the unwanted emotions more quickly. Jamie was discovering what his emotions were and how he could use them for good rather than allowing them to control him.

Struggling with Them Helps Us Define Emotion

One of his success factors seemed to be identifying his emotion more precisely. Initially, instead of just saying “I am angry,” he would ask:

  • “What kind of anger is this?
  • For what purpose should I use it?
  • How intense is it?
  • And will it serve the purpose that I want?”

His answer would be something like this:

I am hurt; that’s why I am angry. I am trying not to get hurt anymore. I am very hurt because… [he would name the reason].

Afterward, he would ask, “Is it going to help or hurt me more to remain hurt and angry?”

Thus, it was in his struggle that he discovered the meaning of his emotions and gained the upper hand. Try it.

Our Aim in this Study:

Since this is not a study on the neurological pathways in the brain or the formation of a philosophical school of thought, we will not attempt to define emotion scientifically or philosophically. Rather, we will aim at a practical understanding of emotion, an examination of the struggle each temperament has with emotion, and how they can do something about it. In the next article, we will begin with why an understanding of our emotions is necessary.



Intelligently Emotional Book CoverMy hope is that this book will lead you, as its content has led many others, to be intelligently emotional. If it helps you to develop the intelligent use of your emotions and a rewarding lifestyle, my labor will not have been in vain.  You can access it HERE.  If you are subscribed to our weekly updates, our next issue will provide a link to purchase it with a 15% discount and free shipping.




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