Thursday, April 23, 2020

Basic Emotions

When I worked at Starbucks in Ann Arbor, I would post a trivia question each day – something for people to do as they waited in line. Some of them involved lists:

·      Name the Seven Dwarfs.
·      Name the Seven Deadly Sins.
·      Name the Great Lakes.

I recently read that we human beings all share 6 basic emotions. Can you name them? To discourage cheating, I will post the list at the end of this article. Make your guesses.

I tried to come up with my own list of my basic emotions by looking into my own heart. Surprise – there was a bit of overlap with the Seven Deadly Sins (pride, lust, greed, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth). You might want to come up with a list of your own Basic Personal Emotions. Feel free to share this list with the people with whom you have been confined for a few weeks. They may be able to add a few items to your list. (Asshole is not an emotion.)

Here's my list:
·      bewilderment
·      amusement
·      lust
·      disgust (I promised myself not be political here.)
·      comfortable numbness
·      gratitude
·      worry

I know, I know – some of these are not emotions. But as a guy of Canadian ancestry, they are what I substitute for emotions.

The writer who pointed out the Basic Six went on to explain that there are also what he calls “secondary emotions dependent on culture.” He mentioned a few examples:
·      shame
·      pity
·      regret
·      pride
I don’t indulge in any of these to a significant extent, though I don’t know how I avoided them with my Puritan New England upbringing along with some Jewish chords my soul sometimes plays (thank you, Peter).

So, here are the 6 Basic Emotions:
·      happiness
·      fear
·      anger
·      sadness
·      disgust
·      surprise

What makes them “basic”? I suppose that means they are universal, not dependent on culture. I’m sure a lot of research went into making that list, and I’m equally sure that I’m not going to locate and read the research. I’m more than a little curious why Love is not listed as a basic emotion, though it’s not on my list because I see love as a verb – something wedo, rather than an emotion – something we feel. (This goes back to a conversation I had with Kim when we were dating. I told her I loved her, and she said, “Prove it.”)

I do suspect, based on no research, that most emotions, as experienced in the real world, are combinations – happiness and fear, anger and regret, lust and shame, gratitude and guilt. We live in a rich stew.

                        *     *     *     *     *

After Kim read a draft of this piece, she asked me to come up with a list of her Personal Basic Emotions. Sensing a trap, I was reluctant, but I was eventually persuaded to do her Six. Here’s what I came up with for Kim:
·      joy
·      love
·      disgust
·      gratitude
·      frustration
·      determination

Kim was delighted that I got her right. I think she was delighted that her husband is not totally self-absorbed.

                        *     *     *     *     *

So, how successful were you in coming up with the universal Six Basic Emotions? Did you even try? How do you feel about not trying?

And if you’d like to share your list of your own basic emotions, send me a note ( or , along with permission (or not) to post your list, with our without your name.

John Bayerl wrote:
Anger, fear, joy, delight, excitement, contentment

You have permission to publish this.  In all likelihood, as soon as I send this I'll have a new list. 

Peter Rubinstein wrote:

In short I would add "empathy" to my personal list, maybe along with "anxiety". Peter, not to be too picky, but isn't "empathy" experiencing someone else's emotions? -DS


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