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Understanding Emotions: How to Recognize and Harness Our Feelings

We all experience a wide range of emotions throughout our lives. But few of us have been taught to recognize, name, and understand our feelings in a productive way. We may be able to identify basic emotions like anger and joy, but often struggle to recognize more subtle or complex emotions.

Knowing how to read our own emotions is an important skill for better mental health. Once we learn to name what we’re feeling, we can find ways to address it. Learning to identify and accept our emotions is the first step to understanding them and managing them effectively.

The Different Categories of Emotions

Humans experience hundreds of different emotions and it’s useful to look at them as individuals feelings or groups of feelings.

The two main categories are positively-valenced and negatively-valenced emotions. Positively-valenced emotions include feelings like love, joy, curiosity, and enthusiasm, while negatively-valenced emotions include feelings like fear, sadness, anger, and frustration.

Positive emotions can open us up to new possibilities and motivate us to take action. Negative emotions, on the other hand, can help us recognize when things aren’t going well and point us towards areas that need our attention.

Recognizing Our Emotions

We tend to experience a wide range of emotions on a daily basis and it can be difficult to keep track of them. One helpful technique is to practice mindful awareness and acknowledge the emotion as it occurs. Pay attention to the physical sensations associated with the emotion and observe your thoughts and reactions, without judging them.

Another strategy is to try to name the emotion you’re feeling. It can be helpful to think about the different categories of emotions, like happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust. If necessary, you can refer to a list of emotions to help you identify what you may be feeling.

Harnessing Our Emotions

Once we’ve identified our emotions, we can start to harness them to improve our mental health and wellbeing. Recognizing our emotions allows us to take steps to manage them. Each emotion gives us information and should be treated with understanding and respect.

When we’re feeling positive emotions, it can be helpful to focus on them and appreciate them. Spend time with friends and family, explore hobbies, go for walks in nature, or do something creative. Finding healthy ways to enjoy our positive emotions can help us create meaning in our lives and look for the silver lining in difficult situations.

When we’re feeling negative emotions, it can be helpful to try to accept them. Acknowledge the feeling and allow it to pass through you. Instead of trying to push away or suppress the emotion, work to understand why it is occurring.

When appropriate, use your negative emotions as motivation to make positive changes. If we can channel our feelings into constructive activities, we can use our emotions to motivate and guide us.


Understanding and harnessing our emotions is an important part of mental health. Learning to identify and name our feelings can help us better manage them and stay in control of our lives. With practice and patience, we can learn to recognize and direct our emotional energy in healthy and productive ways.

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