According to Jessica Tracy, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, people’s emotional responses are predictable across cultures. “People everywhere show anger, fear, happiness, and sadness in the same way,” she explained on the panel. Many of those same emotional responses can also be found in animals. “There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that for most emotions, we have them because we evolved to have them,” Tracy continued. “They’re functional, they’re adaptive, and essentially they help us survive and reproduce.” Being afraid, for example, isn’t irrational. It’s an instinctual response to the possibility of danger, and it may help keep you safe.

Although Winch emphasized that all emotions are valid, he cautioned that their usefulness comes down to how well a person is able to interpret the signals that their feelings provide. “Don’t spend time feeling bad that you’re having emotions,” Winch said. “Get curious, because when you get curious, there’s a defense mechanism there to take you to an intellectual level, which distances you from the emotion and allows you to think through it.” That might lead you to investigate the situation and find you’re not actually in danger, which means you’ve successfully processed the emotion.

Gottlieb thinks self-evaluative distance is crucial for a person’s emotions to provide the useful information that they seem to have evolved to carry. “Sometimes hell is other people, but sometimes hell is us. We need to understand what our role is in the situations that we find ourselves in,” she said. “There’s a saying: If there’s a fight in every bar you walk into, maybe it’s you.”

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Amanda Mull is a staff writer at The Atlantic.
Categories: Health

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