Emotional Health

Difference between feelings, emotions and mood

5 Mins read
feelings, emotions and mood
feelings, emotions and mood

The difference between feelings, emotions and mood lies on how immediate and intensely they affect us. We confuse these terms; feelings, emotions and sometimes mood, to mean the same thing or inferring the same thing when they are irrefutably very different things.

Our emotional health, and partly our physical health, is greatly affected by how we perceive and react to these stimuli (I got lost on what word to use here so stimuli was the closest I could get to not using feelings or emotions).

Daniel Goleman, who popularized Emotional intelligence, said that if these stimuli go unrecognized and unaddressed, they may result in catastrophic events. Emotions are capable of clouding our judgement, hence affecting our ability to make rational decisions.

This is why, for a more peaceful and stress free life, you need to be able to take into account your feelings, emotions and mood. Emotions are sometimes so neglected that most people are oblivious to the deep currents that move them, hold them back, and lead them astray.

“We are ruled by our emotions, but this today is truer than ever. Much more than reason or tradition, it is our emotions that determine our choice of profession, partner, and politics, and our relation to money, sex, and religion. Nothing can make us feel more alive, or more human, than our emotions, or hurt us more. Yet, the emotions are utterly neglected by our system of education, leading to millions of mis-lived lives.” – Neel Burton, Heaven and Hell: The Psychology of Emotions, 2020.

As Aristotle and the medieval moralists understood quite well, emotions are essential to a healthy human existence, and it is for that reason that their malfunction is so serious.

A simple table of the differences

Definition: is an unconscious response that occurs only for 6 seconds and is physical in state. Its the first stimuli response towards a trigger.Definition: A feeling comes about as a result of an emotion by actively processing and thinking about the emotion. Is of a mental state and takes way longer than an emotion.
Examples: happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise, and anger Examples: confident, reliable, amazed, unpleasant, upset, unreliable
Measuring: Can be easily measured and quantified.Measuring: Since feelings are mental, they cannot be measured accurately.

What is an emotion

An emotion is an unconscious response. It doesn’t occur in the conscious mind. They are lower level responses occurring in the sub-cortical regions of the brain, the amygdala, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortices, creating biochemical reactions in your body altering your physical state.

Emotions come about when chemicals are released in response to our interpretation of a specific trigger. These chemicals occur throughout the body, not just the brain. Since emotions are the initial reaction towards a trigger, they are short lived and last for about 6 seconds.

Emotions are physical and can be measured objectively by blood flow, brain activity, facial expressions and body stance.

According to Charles Darwin, emotions have helped our species survive by producing quick reactions to threat, reward, and everything in between in their environments.

In 1872, Darwin published The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, in which he argued that all humans, and even other animals, show emotion through remarkably similar behaviors. For Darwin, emotion had an evolutionary history that could be traced across cultures and species—an unpopular view at the time. Today, many psychologists agree that certain emotions are universal to all humans, regardless of culture: anger, fear, surprise, disgust, happiness and sadness.1

Emotions are genetically coded into each and everyone of us, as much as they can differ from one person to another, our perception of them is mostly basically the same. Check out this video that talks a little bit more about how emotions affect us:

Types and examples of emotions

Psychologist Paul Eckman identified six basic emotions that he suggested were universally experienced in all human cultures. The emotions he identified were happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise, and anger. He later expanded his list of basic emotions to include such things as pride, shame, embarrassment, and excitement. These are called the Basic Emotions.

types of basic emotions

In a recent study published in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, researchers identified 27 different categories of emotion. Rather than being entirely distinct, however, the researchers found that people experience these emotions along a gradient. The researchers created an interactive map to demonstrate how these emotions are related to one another.

What is a feeling

Feelings are mental reactions and responses towards emotions. They come after emotions. Feelings come about through active thinking and analyzing, it involves cognitive input, usually subconscious, and cannot be measured precisely.

Feelings are influenced by personal experience, beliefs, and memories. Unlike emotions which are categorized as physical responses, feelings on the other hand are mental responses. Feelings are more cognitively intensive as the emotion chemicals are processed in our brains. Feelings are driven by a mix of emotions, and last for a way longer period than emotions.

Since feelings are mental, they cannot be measured accurately. However, emotions are more predictable and easily understood than feelings, which are mostly confusing.  Feelings reflect your personal associations to emotions – through past experiences, your personal beliefs and memories.

Examples of feelings

There are over 4,000 feelings documented in the English language. Most us can easily list at least 500 of those, but when asked to list emotions we can only list five to ten. The emotion comes first and is universal, however, the feeling or feelings that it will result in varies enormously from person to person and from situation to situation because feelings are shaped by an individual’s beliefs and experiences.

Since feelings are a result of emotions, they are just an extension of the basic emotions into a bigger reaction that may vary from person to person. For example, one emotion may result in a positive feeling in one person whilst causing a negative feeling in another. Here is a list of pleasant feelings;

reliablejoyousenergeticat ease

And another list of unpleasant feelings:


What are moods – and mood swings

A mood is a semi-persistent mix of mental and physical reactions brought about by emotions and feelings as we go about our day. Moods are fleeting and depend on so many factors such as the environment (weather, work environment, our company), physiology and mental state.

Moods are however less intense and more generalized than emotions or feelings.

According to Melissa Conrad, MD, Mood swings are rapid changes in mood. The term may refer to minor daily mood changes or to significant mood changes as seen with mood disorders such as major depression or bipolar depression. Mood swings can also occur in women who suffer from premenstrual syndrome or premenstrual dysphoric disorder.

Why do any of these matter

Our mental well being is crucial to our health and happiness. Emotions and feelings have the power to make or break us if we do not learn how to address and deal with the unpleasantness and hyper responses that come with them.

Emotional intelligence teaches us to pay attention to these aspects. Learn to feel and embrace all of your emotions fully, labeling them without judgement, and work on expressing them constructively. Remove the narrative as much and as often as possible, and focus on the actions that you believe will give you results that serve you best.


  1. Ferris, J. (2010). The evolution of emotion: Charles Darwin’s little-known psychology experiment. retrieved from Scientific America.
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I'm a psychology enthusiast and a fried chicken lover. I write bite sized articles unpacking the complexities of the human mind. The mission is to advocate for what's more important in life - the pursuit of the truth and the highest good one can do with that truth - for themselves, the people around them and the society as a whole.
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