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Heaven & Hell - The psychology of Emotion

Emotions, emotional feelings, experiences are all subtlety different things.

Emotions are subjective ways of seeing that reflect needs and concerns.

Can be distinguished from moods, desires and perceptions. Emotions are ‘intentional’ in that they are directed against a thing or class of objects, typically a person, thing, action or state of affairs.

The formal object of emotion is evaluation. The object of belief is truth. They aim at being justified.

Beliefs are thoughts that are held to be true. A belief is held not felt and is either right or wrong. An emotion is less open to being contested. Emotions are catalyse beliefs into action. This is part of their evolutionary function and hence why they tend toward a short-term bias.

A trait is a disposition or lack thereof toward particular emotions. Traits are often named for the predominant associated emotion and often labelled as virtues or vices, eg humility or greed. Many virtues in particular though relate to the control of emotion eg courage, fortitude, temperance.

Temperamental traits are innate, character traits can be moulded. Character from the Greek to impress an image upon a coin.

Coco Chanel, ‘Nature gives you the face you have at twenty. Life shapes the face you have at thirty/ But at fifty you get the face you deserve.

Traits in part shape behaviour but so do situational factors. (Fundamental attribution bias).

‘Virtue principally consist in correcting and refining our emotions and the values that they reflect.’

‘Boredom is a deeply unpleasant state of unmet arousal.’

Loneliness ‘can be defined as a complex and emotional response to isolation or lack of companionship. It can be either transient or chronic and typically includes anxiety.’

Seen as damaging to the individual and often used as punishment.

The internet seems to promise to prevent this but often fuels envy a false sense of connectedness whilst desensitizing us to violence and suffering. Often at the cost of real relationships.

Solitude in contrast is the enjoyment of solitude.

Nietzche – ‘Men without solitude are mere slaves because they have no alternative but to parrot culture and society.’

Solitude provides distance and perspective and it often critical to problem-solving creativity and spirituality.

For poet Maria Rilke the highest task of lovers was that each should stand guard over the solitude of others.

‘I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention – invention in my opinion arises directly from idleness’. Agatha Christie.

Lord Melbourne PM under Queen Victoria extolled masterful inactivity Jack Welch as CEO of General Electric had 1 hour per day in the diary of ‘looking out the window time’.

Shame arises from measuring our actions against moral standards and falling short.

Hubris is an inflated sense of status, accomplishment or ability, especially when accompanied by haughtiness or arrogance.

Vanity is similar but refers to an inflated sense of self in the eyes of others.

Humiliation is bought on by others where embarrassment we bring on ourselves. It is traumatic and often covered up. To humiliate someone else is to exert power over them. It is in the nature of humiliation that is undermines the victims ability to defend themselves.

True humility comes from a true perspective of the human condition and therefore our utter insignificance. To be humble is to subdue the ego – to e modest is to protect the ego of others so they are not threatened.

In Taoism humility is one of the three virtues (with compassion and frugality).

Humility is a highly adaptive trait that research has linked to pro-social dispositions such as self control, gratitude generosity, tolerance and forgiveness.

‘I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.’ G K Chesterton.

Gratitude is different from appreciation – which recognizes good qualities but without the dimension of awe, profundity or humility which is at the heart of gratitude.

‘Gratitude promotes consciousness, enthusiasm, joy, empathy, and tranquillity, while protecting from anxiety, sadness, loneliness, regret and envy.’

Gratitude undermines our ego illusion. It reflects emotional maturity.

Research links gratitude to satisfaction, motivation and energy decreased stress and better health.

Ingratitude is ugly and hurtful because it ignores the efforts of others – it has become the norm in our entitled societies where me is more important than us.

Envy, pain caused by the desire for the advantages of others.

Envy takes root when 3 conditions are met; First we are confronted with a person or others with a superior quality, second we desire that quality for ourselves or with the other did not have it and third we are pained by the associated emotion.

The politics of envy ends in communism and greed drives capitalism.

Greed is a compensatory behaviour for our existential anxiety. We are conscious of our own mortality and yet have an instinct to survive.

All suffering can be framed in terms of desire. Fear and anxiety are often understood in terms of desires about the future whilst anger and sadness can be understood in terms of desires about the past.

Hope is a desire for something to happen combined with the anticipation of it happening. This involves an estimation of probabilities – we are not good or rational at this and so the combination of both ignorance and defiance is integral to the meaning of hope. Fear is hopes opposite – the desire for something not to happen.

Ambition is a desire to distinguish ourselves from other people. This is a trait and therefore more general than aspiration with fixes on a particular goal.

‘A person shrinks or expands into the degree and nature of his ambitions. Ambition needs to be cultivate and refined and yet has no teachers.’

‘Patience is the quality of endurance and equanimity in the face of adversity. Often described or thought of as a virtue because it is both beneficial and difficult’.

‘Unfortunately depression cannot as yet be defined according to its aetiology, but only according to its clinical manifestations and symptoms. This means a physician cannot base a diagnosis of depression on any objective criterion such as a blood test or a brain scan, but only on his subjective interpretation of the nature and severity of the patient’s symptoms.

Empathy is the ability to recognize and share the emotions of others. It involves seeing someone else’s situation from their perspective. Frequntly confused with sympathy pity and compassion which are reactions to the plight of others. These do not involve shared perspective and emotions.

Empathy rests on theory of mind which is the ability to understand that others see things differently from ourselves and have different beliefs desires and emotions. Theory of mind is innate and develops in children from about the age of 4. It allows us both to empathize but also predict and explain the behaviour of others.

Our capacity for empathy is naturally limited both in capacity and accuracy. Those surrounded by human distress limit their empathy as a basic requirement for self-preservation.

Altruism is the unselfish concern for the well being of others.

Self-confidence is the ability to trust ones self. It allows us to frame situations as challenges to be met and overcome rather than threats to be avoided or survived. Confidence operates in the realm of the unknown but is superseded by courage in the realm of the unknown.

Esteem is our cognitive and emotional appraisal of our own worth. It becomes the matrix through which we think feel and act and determines our relationship with ourselves, others and the world. In the west this is primarily bound up with achievement (and therefore also leads to fear of failure and the pursuit of ‘success’ at any cost), whereas in the east it is more related to worthiness to be seen as a dutiful member of a family and community.

Self esteem in part enables resilience because it protects against the fear of failure or rejection. Of course they suffer setbacks but these are bumps along a road they don’t damage or diminish.

‘Self esteem grows – ‘whenever we live up to our hopes and dreams, we can feel ourselves growing. Whenever we fail but know we have given our all, we can feel ourselves growing. Whenever we stand up for our values and suffer the consequences, we can feel ourselves growing. Whenever we come to terms with a painful truth, we can feel ourselves growing. Whenever we bravely live up to our ideals we can feel ourselves growing.’

Courage is the noblest of the virtues because it is the one that guarantees all the others.

‘Little children have a quiescent or merged ego, which is why they brim with joy and wonder. Youth and ecstasy are the echoes of a primordial wisdom.’

The Delphic oracle declared Socrates the wisest of all men – he figured this was because ‘I am likely to be wiser than he is to this small extent, that I do not think, I know what I do not know.’