>>Feelings and Emotions: The A – Z Guide

Feelings and Emotions: The A – Z Guide

This article discusses the difference between feelings and emotions. Let’s be honest: conveying internal feelings in words in not easy, and that explains a lot of the confusion on this topic. We tend to use the words emotions, feelings and moods interchangeably. Of course they are closely related and yes this is a complex topic, but there is a fundamental difference and understanding it is important. At stake is the way you behave in this world.

What Are Emotions?

Feelings and Emotions

Essentially emotions are physical and instinctive. They have been programmed into our genes over many, many years of evolution and are hard-wired. While they are complex and involve a variety of physical and cognitive responses (many of which are not well understood), their general purpose is to produce a specific response to a stimulus. For example: You are on your own and on foot in the savanna wilderness, you see a lion, and you instantly get scared. Emotions can be measured objectively by blood flow, brain activity, facial expressions and body stance. Important note: Emotions are carried out by the limbic system, our emotional processing center. This means that they are illogical, irrational, and unreasonable because the limbic system is separate from – sitting literally behind – the neocortex, the part of our brain that deals with conscious thoughts, reasoning and decision making.

I’d like to give you a clear list of universally recognized emotions but unfortunately such a list does not exist. William James proposed four basic emotions: fear, grief, love, and rage, based on bodily involvement. Paul Ekman devised six basic emotions: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. Wallace V. Friesen and Phoebe C. Ellsworth worked with him and agreed on the same structure of emotions. In the book Passion and Reason Richard and Bernice Lazarus  list fifteen different emotions: aesthetic experience, anger, anxiety, compassion, depression, envy, fright, gratitude, guilt, happiness, hope, jealousy, love, pride, relief, sadness, and shame. Psychologists identify twenty-seven categories of emotion: admiration, adoration, aesthetic appreciation, amusement, anger, anxiety, awe, awkwardness, boredom, calmness, confusion, contempt, craving, disappointment, disgust, empathic pain, entrancement, envy, excitement, fear, guilt, horror, interest, joy, nostalgia, pride, relief, romance, sadness, satisfaction, sexual desire, surprise, sympathy and triumph. This was based on 2185 short videos intended to elicit a certain emotion. These were then modelled onto a “map” of emotions.

Read more about how psychologists classify emotions here.

What Are Feelings?

Feelings on the other hand play out in our heads. They are mental associations and reactions to an emotion that are personal and acquired through experience. There are over 4,000 feelings listed in the English language. Most people can easily recognize at least 500 of those, but when asked to list emotions they can only list five to ten. The emotion comes first and is universal. What kind of feeling(s) it will then become varies enormously from person to person and from situation to situation because feelings are shaped by individual temperament and experience. Two people can feel the same emotion but label it under different names. For example: You are in a zoo on your own and on foot, you see a lion behind bars, and your  feelings may range from curiosity to admiration or bitterness if you believe lions should never be caged.

What Are Moods?

In psychology, a mood is an emotional state. In contrast to emotions, feelings, or affects, moods are less specific, less intense and less likely to be provoked or instantiated by a particular stimulus or event. Moods are typically described as having either a positive or negative impact. In other words, people usually talk about being in a good mood or a bad mood.

One Viewpoint On The Basic Differences Between Emotions and Feelings

Emotions are event-driven, while feelings are learned behaviors that are usually in hibernation until triggered by an external event. Unlike happiness for example (a feeling), joy (an emotion) involves little cognitive awareness—we feel good without consciously deciding to—and it’s longer lasting. Whereas happiness is usually induced by and dependent on outside conditions, joy is something we experience more deeply; it’s a state of being that’s not necessarily tied to external situations. While happiness is a state of mind based on circumstances, joy is an internal feeling that disregards circumstances.

Here are some examples of different feelings and emotions and how they differ one from another:

Feelings tell us “how to live.”Emotions tell us what we “like” and “dislike.”
Feelings state: “There is a right and wrong way to be.”Emotions state: “There are good and bad actions.”
Feelings state: “Your emotions matter.Emotions state: “The external world matters.
Feelings establish our long term attitude toward reality.Emotions establish our initial attitude toward reality.
Feelings alert us to anticipated dangers and prepares us for action.Emotion alert us to immediate dangers and prepares us for action
Feelings ensure long-term survival of self. (body and mind.)Emotions ensure immediate survival of self. (body and mind.)
Feelings are low-key but sustainable.Emotions are intense but temporary.
Happiness is a feeling.Joy is an emotion.
Worry is a feeling.Fear is an emotion.
Contentment is a feeling.Enthusiasm is an emotion.
Bitterness is a feeling.Anger is an emotion.
Love is a feeling.Attraction is an emotion.

So What?

The secret to knowing who you are and living well begins with knowing the difference between sustained feelings and temporary emotions. Think about it this way: Nothing you can ever experience in life, no matter how terrible, will ever be anything more than a bunch of thoughts, plus a few physical sensations. Can you handle that?

Being able to clearly identify how we are feeling has been shown to reduce the intensity of experience because it re-engages our rational mind. Get a list of feelings words here.

The most elegant way to identify the emotion behind a particular negative feeling is to simply ask “What surprised you?

On Altering Your Perspective

Most people believe that their mood, attitude or the way they feel is based upon circumstances or other people. Ask anyone you know who is in a bad mood or depressed why they feel the way they do and virtually all of them will tell you about a circumstance or an encounter with someone else.

The truth of the matter, however, is that feelings are caused by the thoughts about circumstances and people. People or circumstances in and of themselves cannot directly impact your feelings. Being crystal clear about this concept will give you a great sense of empowerment and freedom. The following story exemplifies this idea.

Two shoe salesmen travel to a distant island to open up a new market for their shoe line. Once they arrive, they canvass the area to evaluate its potential. Shortly thereafter, the first salesman in a very downtrodden mood calls back to the home office and says, “bad news, no one here wears shoes,” and took the next plane home. The other sales person, could hardly contain himself and when he called the home office he said, “great news, no one here wears shoes and we have no competition, we better have a lot of product on hand.”

In Conclusion

Learn to feel and embrace all of your emotions fully without labelling them, and work on expressing them constructively. Remove the narrative as much and as often as possible, and focus on the actions that you believe will give you results that serve you best. If and when you want to change your emotions know that you can do so easily and safely within minutes with wellness modalities such as Laughter Wellness or Laughter Yoga that invite people to engage through the motions of laughter, joy and empowerment in an effort to jump start those very emotions. I’m not saying it’s always easy, but it is worth it.

I have written in-depth on this topic in our online training Laughter For Self-Help that’s included in the LOU Library Pro membership. If you are serious about not just deepening your understanding on how to live a better life but also learning how to unlock the many benefits of laughter (healing can be fun!) then buy it now or ask it as a gift for your birthday or Christmas. 30 days money back guarantee!

See the face you love light up with Laughter WellnessGentle Solo Laughter Wellness Workout

Related links

  • How I feel” (an exercise you can use both at the beginning and the end of your laughter sessions.)
  • The science of emotions (we have a joy system in our brain!)
  • I found this article by John Voris valuable when researching for this one.

Are you feeling emotional or do you have emotional feelings about this topic? What is your take on the difference between feelings and emotions? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below!

2018-12-07T13:05:46+00:00Laughter Blog|

About the Author:

Sebastian Gendry is a change-maker, coach and consultant with a passion for laughter. His life mission is help people live a happier, healthier and more connected life at a higher level of vibration. He played a major role in introducing Laughter Therapy in North America, Russia, and other countries and has been traveling every year to 3-6 continents since 2008 offering a variety of speaking and Laughter Wellness events, the method he created. He is a repeat TEDx speaker and has appeared in 100+ newspapers and magazines as well as major TV shows, including the Oprah Winfrey Show, 60 minutes and ABC Good Morning America. He encapsulates and shares the power of positive and playful energy and creativity.


  1. Nobody March 18, 2017 at 7:05 pm - Reply

    This article is wrong on so many levels, biggest of it is using the word ‘Feelings’ and ‘Emotions’ for each other.

    • Sebastien Gendry March 18, 2017 at 7:42 pm - Reply

      Thank you for voicing your opinion, and kindly help us and everybody else understand exactly why you disagree by being more specific. If what we explain is incorrect in your book, and what would you say and why?

  2. Jimmy Hendrix August 13, 2017 at 12:44 pm - Reply

    This article presents a workable theory. It’s credible and in understanding ourselves and what determines who and how we want to be, that is about as much as we can achieve. In that regard, I believe this is both refreshing and enlightening.

    I do believe there’s a possibility that the inner most circle may not have distinct lines or perhaps there’s a circle at the heart of this all that is the raw energy of emotion. Something that might perhaps explain will (the desire to act). It may also be evidenced by the fact that we can experience happiness, in something bad that also makes us sad (spousal revenge for example).

  3. Kate October 17, 2017 at 7:28 am - Reply

    This is an excellent breakdown. Thanks for posting this.

  4. PapaJamesCalvin December 15, 2017 at 3:25 am - Reply

    I liked the chart. Noticed that only 25% of the emotions listed are positive, 75% negative. Am I to assume that emotions are largely negative?

    • Sebastien Gendry December 15, 2017 at 11:27 pm - Reply

      Well, to keep it simple the point I am making in this article is that feelings are viewpoints whereas emotions are experiences. An experience is just that: An experience. You may or may not like it, but inherently it’s neither positive nor negative, right nor wrong. It just is what it is. Also and for reference I have removed the chart you refer to here (Robert Plutchik’s wheel of emotions) and replaced it with more comprehensive references.

  5. Joan Chapman February 11, 2018 at 9:55 am - Reply

    In the story about the salesmen and the island people who don’t WEAR shoes, this word is spelled “wares” and “where’s”. Very disturbing!

  6. Esther tselila June 28, 2018 at 7:45 pm - Reply

    Thank you for helping me understand the difference between emotions and feelings.please help me understand the relationship between moods and attitude

  7. Shakir Mustafa Moledina December 11, 2018 at 7:51 am - Reply

    I believe the 4th difference is the basis of all the other differences
    Feelings are long term v Emotions that are short term

    As an example
    Love LT v Attraction ST
    Anticipated Dangers LT v Immediate ST

    Secondly it’s the Emotions that build up the Feelings
    Therefore emotions set up the initial mood and response to the external world while the feelings come out as a result of it (Difference no. 3)

    Wonder if I got that right Sebastien

  8. Barb January 4, 2019 at 7:07 pm - Reply

    I think you’re pretty spot on.
    Some questions we all should ask ourselves are why would we want to make anyone but our own self responsible for our own feelings and by making someone else responsible to ‘fix’ our feelings during moments of conflict would lead all while keeping something in mind: Habits and how they are formed and what is needed to break them. Just my thoughts on this. 😉

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