[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Besides your emotional system’s consistency and reliability, each emotion you feel has several characteristics relevant to its function. I have found four characteristics particularly relevant. Each emotion has characteristics of
- Pleasure, from pleasurable to painful
- Intensity, from intense to subtle
- Richness, from complex to simple
- Duration, of long or short-term
Pleasure describes the feeling that something is right, motivating you to do it again. Pain describes the opposite. Pleasure isn’t good and pain bad. As with emotions themselves, the Model treats their characteristics functionally and both are functional. Pleasure generally corresponds with healthy things, at least what was healthy for our ancestors, but not always. You would rather feel pain than, say, suffer the debilitation of a bad burn.
Intensity describes how strong and immediate an emotion’s cause and behavior it motivates. If you haven’t seen a friend in a while, the motivation to see them may be subtle. If you are drowning, getting air will immediately become your most intense and important motivation.
Richness describes how complex the causes and possible behaviors you might respond with. Again, an emotion’s richness and complexity or subtlety comes from its functionality. If your body is low on water, you get thirst — a simple motivation to drink water. If you are considering performing in front of an audience, with a high risk of humiliation and being ostracized if you perform poorly but also a high risk of gaining status among your peers if you succeed, you’ll experience complex emotions. Emotions related to social situations and behaviors tend to be more complex. Those related to basic needs tend to be simple.
I like to think of complex emotions like fine wine or food and simple ones like candy. I like both in my life — different ones for different times.
Duration describes how long an emotion lasts. When you finish eating, the feeling of satisfaction should only last until you need more food — a few hours — so feeling full tends to be a short-term emotion. If it lasted a week you would die of malnutrition. If you have a baby, the emotions to take care of it have to endure how long a baby depends on you — years.
We will see that understanding an emotions’ characteristics helps us understand and manage the emotion, which helps us bring about the emotions we want and avoid those we don’t — the foundation to a lifestyle we want.
Tomorrow: the next element of the Model: behavior in more depth.