Our Emotional Lives This Emotional Life - PBS

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Happiness / Blog

 David Mrazek M.D.

David Mrazek M.D.'s Bio

Dr. Mrazek studies the links between genomic variablity and psychiatric illnesses such as depression and bipolar disorder.

Our Emotional Lives


As we consider our emotional lives, it is a real challenge to try to understand what we mean when we talk about emotions.   On one level, we realize that emotions are powerful drivers of our behavior.  However, at another level, emotions seem to be elusive and we often try to ignore them. 

While the concept of emotion seems abstract, the experience of emotions can be very intense and quite visceral.  To begin to understand the essence of emotions, the first step is usually to try to describe them.  In that regard, there are good emotions and bad emotions.  We celebrate feelings of joy, love, and intense pleasure, while we dread the dark dimensions of rage, terror, and despair.   Until the 20th century, the discussion of emotions was largely relegated to the arts and humanities rather than being examined using scientific experimentation.   An exception to this generalization was the famous treatise of emotions being examined using scientific experimentation that Charles Darwin published which he entitled, “The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals”.  This classic work had only modest impact when it was first published in 1872.  While this important volume is less well known than his “Origin of Species” which has changed the way we understand who we are, Darwin’s reflections on the expression of emotions in man and animals set the stage for the beginning of our scientific efforts that have been designed to better understand our emotional lives and their biological origins. 

To approach a better understanding of each cardinal emotion, it will be useful to consider how these emotions effect us by reflecting on one emotion at a time.  While it is tempting to begin with pleasure, I am more inclined to cover one of the more problematic emotions.  As a psychiatrist, I am no stranger to exploring both real losses such as the death of a loved one that people must endure as well as personal slights and criticisms that can be painful, but to a casual observer seem to be of little significance. My goal will be to share some of these insights with you in my next blog when I discuss sadness and depression.