Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a proponent of the eight basic emotions theory of emotions where the eight basic emotions are fear, courage/interest, sadness, happiness, disgust, surprise/awe and anger and love. Its apparent that they are also paired in opposites as in fear and courage/ interest are opposite emotions in one sense of the word.
Today I want to elaborate on the idea that these emotions come about in opposite pairs and differ just so slightly from each other in terms of the cognitive/motivational appraisal.
Consider fear. Fear is typically thought of as arising from danger while interest/ courage may be thought of as either being in a safe environment (in a safe haven and thus curious and willing to explore) or persisting in a dangerous situation despite threat.
A more useful way to think about both fear and courage/interest is to see them as reactions to challenges. A challenge that is dangerous or appraised so, can be construed as a threat and lead to fearful behavior; on the other hand a challenge that is seen as an opportunity , say to prove oneself, can lead to courage/ interest.
The same is true for sadness. Sadness is typically construed as a reaction to loss. However it could be more generically seen as a reaction to any big change- change is typically upsetting and when construed as a door closing it may lead to feelings of sadness; however its also a fact of life that for something new to start something older has to give way- thus when one door closes, another door opens. The person who faced with a similar big and stressful change, say becoming a parent, may focus on negatives and see it as a close of a dyadic relationship with spouse , loss of freedom etc, and see parenting as burden may get into post-partum depression; while another who welcomes the stress of parenting may actually feel joyous at the arrival of the baby as a new way of life is opening up.
The right way to think about disgust and surprise/ awe is also on same lines. While both reveal facets of ourselves or world that were not known to us before, in case of disgust the revelation is construed as pointing towards ugliness in the world / ourselves ( the beast within) while in surprise/awe the same sudden realization/ revelation is about the beauty within/ outside. One has to remember that at times an Ugly cocoon is pre-requiste for the emergence of a beautiful butterfly and the moment when the long night of the soul is ending is also the time when the gliders of dawn start appearing. Again, by changing our appraisal we can find solace in disgusting situations and make something uplifting out of them.
Finally, anger and love are very social emotions. While anger is typically thought as a reaction to frustration, at a more fundamental level, one can think of anger/ aggression as one way of dealing with conspecifics- in a world of limited resources when the person we are dealing with is ‘not mine’ but ‘other’, then my natural tendency is to get angry in case of conflict and fight for the limited resources; however in a similar situation of conspecifics with limited resources and a conflict if any, if I think of the conspecific as my own – say my child- then my natural reaction is to guard his/ her interests and this is mediated by feelings of love. The same external situation, different appraisals/ value systems and different emotions!!
Thus, we have seen that by changing our underlying value and habitual appraisal systems we can move from a predominance of negative emotions is out life to a predominance of positive emotions in our life, while the external circumstances still remain the same.