Emotion can be good; emotion can be bad.
Being emotional is what makes life worth living. The happiness you feel in the presence of a loved one. The satisfaction of a job well done. The beauty of nature. The awe-inspiring stars on a clear night.
All of these experiences are dependent on emotion. You can be inspired, feel joy, suffer from heartache. Without feelings, life would be dull and uninteresting.
And yet, emotion can also lead us astray. Being passionate can blind you to a necessary choice. Grief can overcome you and lead to depression. Extreme feelings can make you easier to manipulate.
It’s not about “good” feelings, like love and joy, vs “bad” feelings, like anger and fear. You will experience negative emotions over the course of your life. It is not practical to pretend they don’t exist. Negative or bad emotions are just as much of a fully-realized emotional life as positive ones are.
No, the real trade-off is between emotion and logic. Logic might help make better decisions, but feelings give flavor to existence. There must be a middle ground. It is important to balance some emotion with some reason.
But how can you find the right balance? How can you make the most of your feelings and fully live your life, but also make rational decisions and think analytically?
What is the right amount of emotion? How can you tell if you have too much? What mechanisms allow you to increase or decrease the emotion you feel every day?
Related questions: Why does music evoke emotion? What is necessary to change your mind? What do you do that you shouldn’t? How does creative expression help us to know ourselves better?
10 thoughts on “What Is The Right Amount Of Emotion?”
Two pieces of advice from mental health professionals help me answer this question.
1. My former psychiatrist once told me that I should work to control my emotions, not to let my emotions control me.
2. My current therapist noted awhile back that the only thing I can control is my reaction to things.
So, what’s the right balance between emotion and logic/rationality? I think it’s to make and act upon rational decisions backed up with a level of emotion which indicates you truly believe in and will stand by your decisions.
The image of a three-legged stool just popped into my head. One leg is rationality; another leg is emotion; and the third is action. You want the stool balanced by the right level of each. Each appropriately supports the other. That’s the sweet spot.
Michael, I like your image of the three-legged stool, and how important it is to balance the three legs. After many years of discounting or downplaying the emotions, I hope I’ve learned to get in touch with feelings and acknowledge their importance – in other words, listen to my gut (or my heart) as well as my head. Finding the right balance to keep the stool from tipping over is key. Family and friends (and enemies) can all help with this, as can God, if we ask.
Thanks for your question and comment.
Nice to hear from you, Tom! Balance is a key concept to so many things related to health. Easy to say; sometimes hard to live by.
The good emotions led to happiness (in its many forms) and the bad emotions lead ultimately to trouble. The human mind (which is very young on the evolutionary scale) is an experiment in the ability to make wise choices. People seek religion to help guide those choices – virtue vs sin, though that seems too simplistic for many people in the modern world.
The conflict at the center of this question, emotion vs logic, is also what was at the core of the 60s TV show Star Trek. Sure, there are the trappings of science fiction, with alien races, phasers, transporters, and new planets and civilizations. But at the base, it all comes down to the three main characters: Mr. Spock, who represents logic; Dr. McCoy, who symbolizes emotion; and Captain Kirk, who balances the two to be an effective leader.
What’s interesting to me is that Spock was the breakout character on the show. Network executives didn’t like the character and suggested he be removed or toned down, but once the show started airing, he struck a nerve with the viewing public and was by far the most popular character (and even an unlikely sex symbol!).
Part of that no doubt is due to the iconic acting of Leonard Nimoy, but I’m sure to some extent there was a hunger for science and logic in the culture at the time. It must have seemed like science and logic could do just about anything, from organ transplants to trips to the moon. And the embrace of Spock can be seen, I suppose, as a reaction to the growing counter-culture movement of the 60s.
But even with Spock, who made every effort to replace emotion with logic in his day-to-day life, some of the favorite moments were when that emotion crept back in. Spock was half human, after all. And when this paragon of rationality gave in to his baser instincts for the Vulcan mating ritual, it was quite dramatic. Audiences would thrill when stone-faced Spock would flash a moment of joy when discovering Kirk had escaped some death trap.
The underlying message of the show is that it is necessary to temper both logic and emotion. You could argue, I suppose, that reason was more important, since logical Mr. Spock was second in command. But Kirk, the consummate leader, used both logic and emotion to inform his decisions. As must we all. The specific balance might change from one individual to another, but both rationality and passion have their place in our own voyage of discovery and exploration.
I think that we must first redefine “bad” and “good” emotions.
Anger is not always bad. Without it we wouldn’t act/speak against wrongdoing.
Joy is not always good. If you find joy in acts of violence.
What we need is a well trained conscience to guide our emotions. That will help us have to not just the right amount of emotion, but the right kind of emotion.
I must add, I don’t like the sentence,
‘Grief can overcome you and lead to depression’, for two reasons.
1. We all grieve differently and no one should tell another person how to grieve or for how long. I believe that trying to control grief, rather than letting it happen in its own way and time, is the real reason that it can change over into depression.
2. Depression is a disease. Caused mainly by genetics but also from injuries, emotional trauma etc. It cannot always be avoided.
I didn’t read the sentence about depression the same way you did. There is chronic depression, the disease of a brain that has to deal with how the brain gets wired. And then there is situational depression, which is exactly what it says it is … situationally-induced. The chemicals released in the brain are the same; the symptoms of both forms may feel the same. But (usually) over time, the symptoms and poor mental health of situational depression recede, and a healthy brain remains. Make sense?
Thanks Michael, I certainly can see your point that there are different types of depression.
I interpreted the sentence as indicating that grief could be excessive and should be controlled. I don’t feel that way.
Got it. Thanks.
I used to take a medication that had the side effect where I felt zero emotion. No joy, anger, depression, or even love for that matter. Just blank.
When I stopped it, as an experiment. (mind you without having my doctors okay.)
I found emotion I hadn’t felt in years, like 17, or so.
I felt good. And I felt bad. And I didn’t know what to do with all of this new found emotion.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the word “control”.
There is very little I have control over. Except my self and how I choose to react in a given moment.
Now what is the right amount of emotion? Depends on the situation and how much self-control I have in that particular given moment.
Sometimes I feel like I am drowning in so much emotion it is easier to block all of the emotions and go back to the blank place I remember so well.
But when I “choose” to feel, and be myself. I am not sure how much emotion is alright so I find myself checking in with others to see if my emotions are appropriate.
This sounds silly to me, but I’m new to this way of life. And I think I like it.