In previous articles I have written about the importance of our thoughts and our habits. How powerful they are. How they shape our lives. And that we are not the victims of our thoughts and habits. We are their creators. The same is true for our emotions. Thus, we can change who we become tomorrow.
What are emotions on the material level?
On the material level emotions are chemicals that are released by our brain. We have receptor molecules and peptides in our organism. They are the biochemical basis of emotions. They connect the brain, body and behavior. The receptor molecules act as key hole. Peptides are strings of amino acids. They are messenger molecules distributing information throughout the organism. They are the chemical key that docks onto the receptor. During the binding the peptide transfers a message via its molecular properties to the receptor. The receptor transmits the message received from the peptide into the cell’s interior. This initiates a chain reaction of biochemical events. They serve as an organization wide information system linking the brain and glands with the immune, digestive, endocrine, and autonomic nervous system.
How do we construct emotions?
We create emotions by a continuous prediction and simulation of our brain. It checks and corrects those predictions and simulations against the actual sensory input from our body and the world and uses our past experiences. The brain’s simulation that matches the sensory input most becomes our new experience.
Thus, we do not perceive the world in any objectively accurate sense but as an illusion manufactured by our brain based on our needs, goals, and former experiences. Sensory input that does not fit is ignored as noise. We construct the environment and our reality in which we live.
I found it amazing to learn that we do not feel emotions as an infant. We perceive only affect as for example, pleasure, distress, and attachment – but no emotions as happiness, fear, or anger. We learn emotions by the combination of words with our experiences. For example, when our parents tell us that the crying boy feels sad or the smiling girl feels happy.
And as most things in our life as money, our government and laws, our job, our street address, and our social status, emotions are a purely mental concept created by ourselves – by our society.
How we can change our emotions
All of this does not mean that emotions are nonsense, not real or that we should ignore them. Exactly the opposite is true. It is very important to feel our emotions without working oneself up into bad emotions, as suppressing them can make us sick. But it means that we are in the driver’s seat. We can manage and change our emotions. We are active creators of our emotions. We can rewire our brain by leaving our well-trodden walking paths as I described in one of my former articles regarding our habits. We can choose about what we want to expose ourselves. We can collect new experiences, learn more emotion words and deconstruct and recategorize our experiences.
We can also use our body to influence our feelings as the boundaries between mental and physical are porous. For example, when we smile we can handle challenges easier than if we frown, as the latter leads to a higher cognitive load. Or if we jump we can improve our mood as the brain interprets jumping as happiness.
And all of us are true masters in creating emotions. We trained to construct bad moods already in our parental home and still like to practice it with close persons as our partner or our spouse. The same way we can create bad emotions, we can also create good ones. It is just more fun and feels much better.
I do not say that it is easy to transform our emotions. But we have a lot of ways to alter them for the better. And if we start with this today, we can change who we become tomorrow.
Photo by Sergey Katyshkin