How do you define emotions?Talking about the origin of emotions is not unlike talking about where babies come from. We understand the process intellectually, but when we try to wrap our minds around that first spark of creation everything becomes a little hazy.

Do you really know how the spark of life brings a new being into existence? In the same vein, do you really understand why you get emotional?

Where Emotions Come From

The key is in how people see the world. We see the world through our expectations.

We expect certain things to happen and whether reality delivers or not determines what emotions we feel.

Too simplistic? I’ll give you some examples:

Situation 1: The Lost Lover

If someone you love calls and says he’ll be home by 5:30pm, how do you feel when he still hasn’t shown up at 6:30 and isn’t picking up his phone? What about at 10:30pm? Are you more upset? The farther reality gets from your expectations, the more emotions you feel.

Situation 2: The Disappointment Store

You walk into an upscale store, expecting a certain level of service. As you walk through the aisles, sales clerks pretend to be busy, others actively walk away from you. No one comes to help you. Do you feel disappointed? Or angry even?

Now imagine you actually are able to corner a salesclerk to ask question, but instead of treating you as important, she holds up her hand, tells you to wait, and walks away. Are you mad now? Why? It’s because you had certain expectations and the business didn’t deliver.

What if the same situation happens in a dollar store? Are you just as mad? Were your expectations different for the cheaper store? Are you still thinking about the hand in your face? How does that make you feel? Why?

Situation 3: The “Nice” Date

Now, imagine that you are on a date. You go to dinner, a movie, and have a nice time. How do you feel? Would you call it happy? Or would you call it satisfied and maybe content? When we get exactly what we expected to get, we are content.

Situation 4: The Unbelievably Great Experience

What about happiness?

Happiness and joy are when reality exceeds our expectations. You feel this most often when you are surprised with more than you originally expected. A husband comes home with a surprise gift, your kid suddenly decides to clean the bathroom (and does an excellent job!), the IRS gives you a bigger tax refund than you thought they would.

What about the same business from the second example, with a twist.

You walk into the upscale store, expecting great service, and looking to buy a nice scarf. You’re immediately greeted by a smiling salesclerk. She asks if you have been to the store before and you tell her yes, that you are just browsing. She helpfully points over to a new line of clothes that she thinks you will like (you can tell that she did a quick evaluation of your current style and made a well educated guess).

To your surprise, you actually like the outfits they have laid out and try a few on. The salesclerk at the dressing room is also trained as a fashion consultant and makes a few careful recommendations about different sizes and accessories, all of which improve your look measurably. You choose two outfits that look fantastic, and the sales/fashion consultant points you to where the scarves are.

You find one that you like and head up front, where you find the first salesclerk. You ask her where to check out and she says that she can help you over at an obscure kiosk that you would have never expected to be a checkout counter. As the clerk is scanning your outfits, and complimenting your taste, you tell her that you really just came in for the scarf. She looks at you with a smile and tells you the scarf would look great with the second outfit, and as a thank you for coming in, the scarf is included at no charge.

How do you feel as you leave? Will you go back to that store? Did they succeed in making you happy? At the very least more than content?

Emotions Unleashed

As you can see from the examples, emotions stem from the interaction of reality against our expectations. What steps you can take to be happier is the subject of another post entirely.

This is especially important for business to understand this. Honestly, your future depends on understanding this.

What do you think? Is this definition right? How do you think you can use it in your business?


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