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Emotional Meaning

Updated: Aug 12, 2019

When was the last time that you noticed your feelings? How often do you pay attention to what your emotions might be conveying to you?


Daniel Goleman, an expert in Emotional Intelligence, said, “We have two minds. One that thinks and the other that feels.” The thinking mind is analytical and provides reasoning. The feeling mind is affectionate and adds emotional meaning to our lives.

Feelings and emotions are highly individualized. The same experience may have different emotional meanings to different people. For example, an introvert person who prefers to stay by himself may feel overwhelmed and out-of-place when attending a social gathering with strangers. On the other hand, the same meeting may seem extremely rewarding for an outgoing and friendly person. The ‘adrenaline rush’ that both the individuals feel are equally intense, but the emotional meaning they attribute to it is different, which is why their feelings prominently vary from each other.


Fluency in the language of emotions, aka emotional literacy, help us build and maintain long-term relationships both at personal and professional levels. Emotional meaning empowers us to gain a deep insight into ourselves. When we know what our feelings are trying to tell us, we become –

More vigilant of our thoughts and actions.

An active listener who can relate to others’ emotions.

More rational, forgiving, and open-hearted than before.

More efficient in communicating with others.

More expressive about our emotions and feelings.

Open to positive criticisms and receptive to changes.

How many of the above traits can you relate to yourself?

We hear a lot about emotional awareness and wellbeing, but without emotional meaning, we can rarely achieve emotional stability. In this article, let us explore the importance of emotional meaning and discuss some practical ways of using it for a healthy and happy life.

The Source Of Emotional Meaning

Emotional meaning depends mostly on the kind of emotions we experience. Robert Plutchik, a well-known American professor and psychologist, suggested that there are eight main types of emotions that we can experience at any given time –

Happiness or joy Fear Surprise Anger or rage Sadness Disgust Trust Presumption or anticipation

He classified these as primary, secondary, and tertiary emotions based on the intensity and power they have to control us, and created the famous ‘Emotional Wheel’ to show how these eight feelings can coexist to create emotional meaning and attribution. Below is an illustration of the Wheel Of Emotion as Plutchik described, including all the categories and subcategories of feelings we experience.



How Emotional Meaning Influences Us


The postmodern view that millennials have of the world guides their emotional meaning in a completely different direction. Think about this. Many youngsters today find it more comfortable to talk about their feelings on social media rather than in person. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), FOBO (Fear of Being Online), and Digital Detox (the process of getting rid of screen dependence for a healthy life) that are popular contemporary terms, never even existed for people in the 20th-century. In such evolving times, isn’t it natural that the way we derive emotional meaning from life experiences would be different from others and may lead to communication barriers if not dealt with properly?

The good news is, positive psychology has found the solution to this. Millennials no longer have to feel like a fish out of water when attempting to understand or convey emotional meaning to themselves and others.

We will discuss some great ways of managing emotional meaning optimally, but before that, let’s have a glance at what the theory of evolution has to say.


The Evolutionary Aspect Of Emotional Meaning


Charles Darwin was the first one to propose that our emotions have a deep-rooted significance from the evolutionary perspective. Darwin’s studies suggested that with physical and environmental transformation, humans also underwent a massive change in the way they thought and felt. Emotional meaning brings perception and understanding, and influence us to act on it accordingly. During early times when humans stayed in close connection to Nature, emotional meaning and its interpretation played a significant role behind their survival.

For example, the sound of a snake hissing, that evoked emotions of fear and defensiveness, drove them to protect themselves from possible dangers. Understanding the emotions and acting according to it, was, according to Darwin, one of the primary reasons humans survived such immense climatic changes and could eventually win the game among other animals who were higher in the food chain.


Simple Hacks For Regulating Emotional Meaning In The Best Possible Way


Emotional meaning cultivates awareness and influences our natural dispositions. If we are aware of what we feel and can figure out the best possible way to react to it, we can undoubtedly call ourselves emotionally conscious and intelligent.

Here are some useful hacks to get started on extracting emotional meaning efficaciously from our daily life experiences.


– 1 – Journaling thoughts

You must have heard of it before – keeping a journal yields fruitful results when it comes to developing, understanding, and expressing emotional meaning. Start by recording your feelings daily in the thought journal. Write about each experience you have had during the day, no matter how little it may be, and mention the emotional meaning it had for you. A sample journal is illustrated below. You can use this or make one of your own. The whole idea of journaling is to get an objective view of your emotions and regulate them most effectively.


– 2 – Emotional Restructuring

You are in charge of your emotions and have the power to alter what you feel. When you sense a negative connotation in the emotional meaning, try this simple exercise to get your thoughts back on the track. Ask yourself the following questions and answer to them honestly. Notice how by consciously restructuring your emotions, you acquire a positive emotional meaning from your daily experiences.

Ask yourself –

Am I happy about what I feel right now?

Is there any other way of looking into this matter? If yes, what are they?

Is there any other way of reacting to this situation? If yes, what are they?

If this happens again, will I react in the same way?

If a close friend would have been in my position, what would have been my advice to him?


– 3 – Time-out for emotions

You are in charge of your emotions and have the power to alter what you feel. When you sense a negative connotation in the emotional meaning, try this simple exercise to get your thoughts back on the track. Ask yourself the following questions and answer to them honestly. Notice how by consciously restructuring your emotions, you acquire a positive emotional meaning from your daily experiences.


– 4 – Name your feelings

Emotional meaning starts when we assign names to what we feel. For example, unless we interpret something as ‘pleasurable,’ we cannot derive joy from it. Brain sites, such as the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, play a significant role in assigning emotional meaning and controlling our personal experiences. Gaining awareness of our innermost feelings and knowing what to call it is a great way to cultivate positivity and emotional understanding.

It may sometimes seem challenging to attribute the correct emotional meaning to experience, especially when we have to segregate two similar emotions. For example, a less favorable stimulus that evokes feelings of disgust and fear together may confuse the mind. While we feel afraid and disgusted at the same time, we can become perplexed as to which emotional meaning is more impactful at the moment and why.

The ‘Name your Feelings’ exercise loosens this mind gap. The method is simple and involves four steps, as given below. All you have to do is to pay close attention to your feelings and answer the questions honestly. By the end of the exercise, you will be amazed at how your answers reflected your feelings and the emotional meaning associated with them.




We hope you enjoyed reading the article. We would love to hear about your journey and the contribution of emotional meaning to it. Your feedback and thoughts are valuable to us as we at Llama are on a quest to help you deliver your emotion, to your loved ones, friends, colleagues etc. As a part of the Llama mantra, we envision a better world which will come about when people can have deeper rooted connections through the sharing of emotion.


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