One of the most misleading and confusing distinctions people often make with emotions is to divide them into two groups: good feelings and bad feelings. Good feelings might include joy, pride, curiosity, warmth, confidence, concern, or trust and bad feelings might include anger, fear, jealousy, guilt, despair, grief, or hate. While certainly there is wisdom in distinguishing between the pleasant emotions and the unpleasant emotions, calling the unpleasant emotions “bad” is quite incorrect. All of our emotions, and the combinations of emotions that we can experience, have some survival benefit. This point is important: if any of our emotions were hazardous to our survival, then they would not be passed onto future generations.
The fact that so called bad or negative emotions such as pain, fear, grief, sadness, and guilt exist indicates that they are very important for facilitating human survival. There is a rare genetic disease where a person is born without the ability to feel any physical pain. The life expectancy of these people is typically only about 20 years. They often die from serious burns that become gangrenous, and because they don’t feel any pain, they do not realise they have even burned themselves until it is too late for treatment to save them. Here it becomes clear that having a painless life will in fact also be a short life. Likewise, a person who never feels guilt will quickly find themselves locked away in prison or hated and scorned by the community, while those who do not feel fear will end up a delicious meal for a bear or in a serious accident because they did not take proper precautions. There are clear survival benefits for having pain, fear, and guilt. However, for the emotions of sadness and grief, the link between these emotions and increased chances of survival is a bit more complicated to understand. Continue reading