All Emotions Are Created Equal

September 28, 2015

What’s the difference between love and sadness? 

On one level, the difference is obvious. Love and sadness are separate experiences, based on what’s happening in our life and what we observe.

What if we looked deeper? Let’s take away all interpretation of emotions and simply look at the sensations inside our body. What does deep love feel like? What does deep sadness feel like? Are the sensations in our body similar?

When someone close to you dies, do you experience love or sadness? What about witnessing someone who just experienced loss, can you feel the love and the sadness together?

My wife and I even made up a new word, because we saw that these emotions were so tied together. Lovesad. That’s what we use to describe the singular feeling of love and sadness.

Now take excitement and nervousness. Go back to a time when you felt genuinely excited, when you anticipated something wonderful. What was the feeling inside your body? Did it feel like butterflies in your stomach? Were you unable to sleep or sit still? Were your palms sweaty? Does that sound familiar?

Maybe you recognize this as what we commonly refer to as nervousness. But weren’t we talking about excitement? Maybe on some level they are really the same thing.

As a musician, I’ve experienced this many times. Before going on stage for a big show my heart races, I have no appetite and my head is buzzing with thoughts. And I love it, because I have a positive association with that feeling as it relates to performing for a crowd.

On a really fundamental level, what I’m experiencing is no different than the person who is nervous, and has an adverse association to going on stage. Same body sensations, different story.

Is this easy to switch? No. When I get pulled over by the police, I feel nervous. Same sensations as the stage, but it’s not pleasant. I do think however that the lesson here is an important one.

All feelings and emotions are created equal.

For some people sadness is beautiful and they make their best art from that place. For an adrenaline junkie, getting pulled over by the cops might be great, because it gets his heart pumping. For someone in the middle of a good workout, anger might be just perfect to finish the last set of pull ups.

For most of us, we see emotions as a hierarchy. Love is better than sadness, excitement is better than anxiety, passion is better than anger. We then develop preferences about which emotions are good or bad based on the stories we tell about these feelings.

What we’re left with is an experience where we welcome and crave some emotions but resist others.

All emotions, feelings and sensations in our body come and go, how we interpret them is our choice.


Get new thought-provoking essays that question the status-quo
(and question questioning the status-quo).