What Are the Functions of Emotions? The Role of Four Basic Human Feelings

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4 min read This article on the functions of emotions, focusing on four basic human feelings, was written by Ragini Rao and originally published on InfinumGrowth, which offers short films and curated write-ups on a wide range of subjects related to business development and personal growth.


Nature developed our emotions over millions of years of evolution to act as a guiding system.

Emotions make up a significant part of our lives. They manifest themselves through four basic feelings of: 

Joy, Sadness, Anger and Fear

Each emotion has a function—a purpose and meaning, helping us cope at with different situations in life. The following are 6 important ways in which emotions help us:

1. Survival Emotions

Our emotions alert us when our natural human needs are not being met. When we feel fear, our emotions are telling us that we may be in danger.  It is fear of being hit by a vehicle while crossing the road, for example, that alerts us to be careful and take care of our safety. Likewise, when we feel sad due to rejection, it is an indication that our need for connecting with others has not been met. When we feel angry because of humiliation, we know that our need of respect has been violated.

2. Emotions and Decision-Making

Our emotions are a valuable source of information. They help us make decisions. Studies show that when a person’s emotional connections are severed in the brain, s/he cannot make even simple decisions. Why? Because they don’t know how they will feel about their choices. Our feelings of being pleased, disappointed, angry or afraid about something push us to make decisions accordingly. READ RELATED: Give Me a Reason Why I Should Make a Change! How Clarifying Values Can Help Make Up Your Mind

3. Setting Personal Boundaries

Emotions are an excellent clue to how we feel in relationships. All of us, at any time, have different feelings for different people. There are some people in our lives we feel really comfortable with, and we enjoy being with them. There are others with whom we feel a sense of discomfort and feel unsafe. This discomfort is not only at a physical level but also at an emotional level. The awareness of feelings helps us to set our boundaries with people whom we can trust and those who we cannot.

4. Interpersonal Communication of Emotions

Our emotions help us communicate with others. Research indicates that 90% of our communication is nonverbal. Our facial expressions, for example, can convey a wide range of emotions. If we look sad or hurt, we are signaling to others that we need their help.If we are verbally skilled we will be able to express more of our emotional needs and thereby have a better chance of being understood by others. If we are effective at listening to the emotional troubles of others, we can help them feel understood, important and cared about. READ RELATED: Tuning Into Your ‘Third Ear’: The Secrets that Lie Beneath the Unsaid

5. Happy Living

The only real way to know that we are happy is when we feel happy. Happiness makes us feel content and fulfilled. This feeling comes from having our needs met, particularly our emotional needs. We can be warm, dry, and full of food, but still unhappy. Our emotions and our feelings let us know when we are unhappy and when something is missing or needed. The better we can identify our emotions, the easier it will be to determine what is needed to be happy. READ RELATED: Which is Better: A Life of Happiness or a Life of Meaning

6. Saving the Human Race

Our various national, racial, religious, cultural and political beliefs have not really united us. Far too often, in fact, they have tragically and even fatally divided us, by inciting emotions of fear or anger. However, if handled well, our emotions are perhaps the greatest potential source of uniting all members of the human species. The emotions of empathy, compassion, cooperation, and forgiveness, for instance, all have the potential to unite us as a species. It seems fair to say that, generally speaking: Limiting beliefs divide us. Positive emotions unite us. READ RELATED: Finding the Good in the Bad: How to Cope with the Negative Effects of Politics and Fake News

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, feelings of sadness helps us to grieve our losses, anger helps us to become aware of any injustice that could be happening to us, fear helps us to seek safety and joy allows us to enjoy and celebrate life! Emotions when allowed to be expressed legitimately, allow us to lead a balanced life and build healthy organisations and societies.   About Guest Author, Ragini Rao A post graduate in Psychology from Delhi University, Ragini is a Teaching and Supervising Transactional Analyst (TSTA), certified by International Transactional Analysis Association (ITAA). She has over 22 years of experience as a counselor, trainer and therapist. Ragini runs advanced training groups in Transactional Analysis to train individuals to become certified Transactional Analysts. She has conducted Transactional Analysis-based programs across India as well as in Singapore and Bangladesh. Her corporate training programs focus on personal transformation of the individual, providing a strong sense of self awareness and developing a confident and positive approach in dealing with professional and personal relationships. Ragini is also qualified as a Licensed Workshop Leader for the “Heal Your Life” Workshops based on the self healing philosophy of the international author and metaphysical teacher Louise L. Hay. She has clocked over 5000 hours as a consulting psychotherapist to individual clients in Kolkata and Bangalore.  

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