Guiding us along the path of survival
Our emotions act as beacons and compass, guiding us along the treacherous path of survival. Each of us is here only because all of our ancestors survived successfully enough to procreate. The unbroken chain of our ancestry, conception, and birth extends millions of years back in time. The odds against our existence are astronomical, yet here we are! Every one of our ancestors was successful enough to survive, procreate, and pass their genes on to us. Each emotion helped its host to adapt and survive as evolution relentlessly eliminated the unfit. Emotions have helped our ancestors successfully survive and reproduce in a treacherous world by overcoming many obstacles and dangers.
Emotions quickly and decisively integrate our sensations, perceptions, thoughts, beliefs, motives, goals, meanings, subjective experiences, and physiological states to help us survive and flourish in our complex world. Emotions restore us to a state of balance and equilibrium when unexpected or unusual events occur.
But our emotions evolved so we could survive in a dangerous world of scarcity, mistrust, and predators. They evolved more to protect us from loss than to help us explore the possibilities of abundance. As abundance, trust, and safety become possible, we need to understand the survival-based limitations of our emotions and allow ourselves to enjoy the full expression of our humanity.
The following table identifies the virtue or survival goal that each emotion guides us towards, along with the mechanism or message used to achieve that goal. The last column identifies a strength that can help to balance the emotion, cope with the emotion, or that is taught by the emotion.
||Virtue / Goal
||Mechanism / Message
||Avoid danger or respond to it.
||Avoid chemical toxins
||Draw attention and respond to danger.
||Quickly separate friend from foe. Avoid noxious things.
||Act now to preserve justice.
||Reward for increasing stature; you have done your best
||Competitive stimulus for increasing stature
||Punishment for reduced stature; try harder to do your best
||Distain for squandering stature; please do your best
||Focuses attention on preventable stature losses
||Punishment for moral transgression; follow the golden rule
||Pursue sexual interests and care for children.
||Punishment for promiscuity
||Be aware of potential danger
||Reward for making progress toward goals
||Punishment for failing to achieve goals
||Persist, overcome obstacles, and achieve goals
||Reward for facing our fears and succeeding.
||Appreciating altruism and encouraging reciprocity
||Motivation to help others; you have followed the golden rule.
||Retreat, rethink, and recover.
||Continue this fascinating and engaging activity.
- “We accommodate out of fear and guilt. We attack out of anger. We avoid out of fear. Anger can blind, fear can paralyze, and guilt can weaken.” ~ William Ury
- “The most effective way to deal with your negative emotions is not to act them out but to hear them out.” ~ William Ury.
- “The universe itself is a battle between entropy and life—and, because it gets smarter over time, life is sure to win.” ~ Douglas Rushkoff
The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins
The Origin of Emotions, by Mark Devon
[laz] Passion and Reason: Making Sense of Our Emotions, by Richard S. Lazarus, Bernice N. Lazarus
[Ekm] Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life, by Paul Ekman
[OCC] The Cognitive Structure of Emotions, by Andrew Ortony, Gerald L. Clore, Allan Collins
[Gol] Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, by Daniel Goleman
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Create Your Life, Your Relationships, and Your World in Harmony with Your Values, by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Arun Gandhi
Stress and Emotion: A New Synthesis, by Richard S. Lazarus
The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes, by William Ury
The Nature of Emotions, Plutchik, R, The American Scientist, Volume 89, Issue 4, 2001
Fear, Sadness, Anger, Joy, Surprise, Disgust, Contempt, Anger, Envy, Jealousy, Fright, Anxiety, Guilt, Shame, Relief, Hope, Sadness, Depression, Happiness, Pride, Love, Gratitude, Compassion, Aesthetic Experience, Joy, Distress, Happy-for, Sorry-for, Resentment, Gloating, Pride, Shame, Admiration, Reproach, Love, Hate, Hope, Fear, Satisfaction, Relief, Fears-confirmed, Disappointment, Gratification, Gratitude, Anger, Remorse, power, dominance, stature, relationships