The more I talk to people about emotions, the more I realize how paltry our emotional vocabulary tends to be. This is a problem, because descriptive words help us understand ourselves and the world around us. If we don’t have enough names for our emotions, it’s hard to get a handle on what we’re feeling when an emotion arises.
I’ve been looking at the work of cognitive psychologist who are finding that having a more precise vocabulary (for instance, having specific names for light blues and dark blues, as Russian speakers do) tends to make people quicker at identifying subtle differences. We’ve all seen that having a larger vocabulary makes us more articulate and more able to express nuance and subtlety; what is interesting is that a large vocabulary also helps your brain identify things more quickly.
This can be immensely helpful where emotion are concerned! The sooner you know what you’re feeling, the quicker you can take effective emotional action. So I’m putting together an emotions list, starting with four easy emotions: anger, fear, happiness, and sadness. I’m also organizing them into three nuanced categories: Lite, Mood State, and Intense.
Let’s Start With Anger
Most of us know anger only in its mood state, and I’d say this is due to the idea that anger is only negative, and is therefore something to be avoided at all costs. This enforced avoidance and resulting ignorance is not a very good idea, because anger helps you set boundaries, protect your sense of self, and take your place in the world. Anger helps you protect your position, your voice, your standpoint, and your individuality. If you don’t have enough anger, you’ll tend to give up your position and your sense of self, but if you have too much anger, you’ll continually offend against the rights of others.
Anger is also concerned with justice; not only for yourself, but for others. Your anger can be evoked when you see someone being stripped of their sense of self, their rights, or their position. Anger is a very social emotion; if you can understand its nuances and subtleties, you can function more intelligently in your social world.
In the book, I separate anger into the categories of Anger, Rage, Fury, Hatred, Contempt, Disgust, Resentment, Boredom, and Apathy. In this list, these categories are reorganized under the master category of Anger.
Annoyed ~ Frustrated ~ Cross ~ Apathetic ~ Peeved ~ Irritated ~ Cranky ~ Bored ~ Impatient ~ Critical ~ Cold ~ Displeased ~ Rankled ~ Detached ~ Indifferent
Anger in its Mood State
Angry ~ Exasperated ~ Mad ~ Offended ~ Antagonized ~ Bristling ~ Sarcastic ~ Aggravated ~ Arrogant ~ Indignant ~ Inflamed ~ Affronted ~ Resentful
Hostile ~ Aggressive ~ Livid ~ Enraged ~ Furious ~ Belligerent ~ Disgusted ~ Appalled ~ Bitter ~ Ranting ~ Raving ~ Contemptuous ~ Hateful ~ Vengeful ~ Violent
When you know you’re feeling anger, you can make intelligent emotional decisions about what to do with it. In the book, I suggest that you ask the internal questions when your boundaries and self-image (or anyone else’s) are threatened: What must be protected? and What must be restored? Anger brings you a lot of energy, forcefulness, and focus. Asking the internal questions will help you channel that intensity into healthy action.
A reminder: constant anger — even the soft form — can be a sign of depression, especially in men. If nearly everything in your life evokes impatience, annoyance, irritation, anger, crankiness, indignation, sarcasm, and so forth, it’s time to check in with your doctor or therapist. Your friends and family will thank you!
Good Words for Fear
Because fear is our intuition — it’s the emotion that tells us when change is occurring, when we need to orient to something in our environment, and when we need to take action to avoid harm or injury, it’s really important to understand fear in all its forms.
In the book, I separate fear into Fear, Anxiety, Worry, Panic, Terror, and Confusion. In this list, my categories are reorganized under the master category of Fear.
Remember that fear requires that you check in and figure out what you’re being alerted to. Asking the internal question for fear: What action should be taken? (What should I do?) will help you identify and work with your fear in useful ways. If you can work with your fear, you can understand when it is healthy and appropriate, and when it is repetitive and unhelpful to you.
Alert ~ Hesitant ~ Pensive ~ Watchful ~ Cautious ~ Curious ~ Leery ~ Uneasy ~ Doubtful ~ Confused ~ Apprehensive ~ Shy ~ Concerned ~ Disquieted ~ Timid ~ Edgy ~ Fidgety ~ Disconcerted ~ Insecure ~ Indecisive
Fear in its Mood State
Fearful ~ Afraid ~ Suspicious ~ Startled~ Unnerved ~ Anxious ~ Nervous ~ Worried ~ Alarmed ~ Shaky ~ Perturbed ~ Aversive ~ Wary ~ Distrustful ~ Rattled ~ Unsettled
Terrorized ~ Shocked ~ Panicked ~ Filled with Dread ~ Horrified ~ Phobic ~ Petrified ~ Paralyzed
If you experience repetitive fears, worries, or anxieties that don’t track reliably to actual dangers — and don’t respond to any actions you can take, it’s important to reach out to your doctor or therapist. Fear is a lifesaving emotion that primes your brain, your muscles, and your adrenal glands for action. If your fear is stuck in a feedback loop, you may become overwhelmed and exhausted by the activation it causes — which will activate more fear and eventually knock you into disarray. It’s important to be able to calm your body so that you can get back into a workable relationship with your fear. Fear has an irreplaceable job to do; it’s important to be able to work with your fear in healthy ways.
Tracking Happiness Through Your Life
Happiness is a lovely rest stop and a lovely emotion, but it’s not the only emotion you need. Each of your emotions has a specific purpose and a specific place in your life. One of the biggest tricks to learn with happiness is to let it come and go — and to not treat it as better or more important than your other emotions. Every emotion has its place.
If you treat happiness as your go-to emotion, you’ll suffer unnecessarily when your other emotions arise. You need anger, fear, sadness, jealousy, envy, guilt, grief, shame, and even depression (etc.) at times. If all you know and all you want is happiness, you’ll tend to avoid, ignore, suppress, or mistreat your other emotions, and then guess what? You won’t be happy very often.
What I notice in working appropriately with the supposedly “negative” emotions is that when we do it right, we often feel happy, contented, or pleased afterward. It is as if happiness arises to tell us, “Good dog! You’re getting the hang of emotions now, aren’t you?”
In the book, I separate happiness into three categories: Happiness, Contentment, and Joy. In this list, we’ll reorganize them, just as we did with Anger and Fear, above.
Smiling ~ Upbeat ~ Peaceful ~ Calm ~ Amused ~ Open ~ Friendly ~ Encouraged ~ Hopeful
Happiness in its Mood State
Happy ~ Content ~ Optimistic ~ Cheerful ~ Joyful ~ Satisfied ~ Lively ~ Delighted ~ Rejuvenated ~ Pleased ~ Gratified ~ Gleeful
Elated ~ Exhilarated ~ Manic ~ Giddy ~ Euphoric ~ Awe-filled ~ Blissful ~ Enthralled ~ Rapturous ~ Jubilant ~ Ecstatic
In the area of intense happiness, I included mania to remind us that there can be difficulty in the area of happiness. Intense euphoric experiences are excellent and fleeting, and they can change your entire outlook on life. However, they tend not to mesh well with activities that lead to your everyday happiness and security, such as attending to your relationships, working toward difficult goals, and paying the bills. Intense euphoric happiness is excellent in its place, but part of its beauty is that it is (or should be) comparatively rare.
Looking at Sadness
Sadness is the wonderful emotion that helps you let go of things that aren’t working anyway. Most of us avoid sadness as if it is the thing that created the loss in the first place. It isn’t. In its healthy sate, sadness is evoked by the fact that you need to let go of something. Listening to sadness can help you let go of things that don’t work so that you can make room for things that do.
The internal questions to ask for sadness are: What must be released? and What must be rejuvenated? Remember to ask both questions; sadness is not just about loss. Sadness clears away things that don’t work so that you can make changes in your life and make room for things that do work for you.
Let’s organize some vocabulary to help you welcome the gifts sadness brings you. In the book, I separate sadness into Sadness, Despair, Despondence, Grief, and Depression. These categories are reorganized here under the general category of Sadness.
Regretful ~ Disconnected ~ Distracted ~ Low ~ Listless ~ Wistful
Sadness in its Mood State
Sad ~ World-weary ~ Down ~ Melancholy ~ Mournful ~ Weepy ~ Grieving ~ Gloomy ~ Dejected ~ Downtrodden ~ Heavy-hearted ~ Forlorn ~ Sorrowful ~ Dispirited ~ Discouraged
Despairing ~ Bleak ~ Despondent ~ Depressed ~ Anguished ~ Inconsolable ~ Grief-stricken ~ Hopeless ~ Heartbroken ~ Morose
If you’re in intense sadness, or if your mood-state sadness is continuous and repetitive (and doesn’t respond to a good cry), it’s important to check in with your doctor or therapist. Sadness has a powerful physical component that drops you downward; it can interfere with sleep, eating, and your hormonal regulation — which then leads to more sadness and more dysregulation. Just as it is with any other emotion, sadness shouldn’t hang around forever. It should do its job and move onward. If it doesn’t, and you’re in a constant sadness feedback loop, please seek help.
Note for the grieving: Though grief is different from sadness, I’m including it here for ease of categorization. However, it is quite normal (and healthy) for grief to last a much longer time than simple sadness. This is because grief arises not merely when you need to let something go – grief arises when you have no choice about letting go, and you’re losing something over which you have no control. Grieving is a slow and languid process that takes its own time. If you’re grieving, re-read the grief chapter in the book, or contact your local hospice agency for free grief support. In both of these places, you’ll find support for your grieving process instead of constantly being told to cheer up. Grieving is really important — it’s not the opposite of happiness — and it takes its own time.
What would you add?
Fellow emotion-having primates and empaths, would you please comment about any words that don’t make sense to you, and add any words that should be on these lists? I thank you! I’m putting together a master list that I’ll make available as a PDF once we’re done.
I’m also working on lists like these for the emotions Jealousy, Envy, Guilt, Shame, and Suicidal Urges. I’ll post these in the next week or so and ask again for your ideas and opinions.