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Key Takeaways:

  • Emotions are intense, short-lived reactions; feelings are subjective experiences shaped by interpretations, while moods are sustained emotional states influencing overall disposition.
  • Knowing the difference between emotions, feelings, and moods can help children better understand themselves and how they respond to various situations.

Distinguishing between emotions vs. feelings vs. moods is crucial to developing healthy coping mechanisms. Contrary to popular belief, these words aren’t interchangeable, but they are connected.

Whether you’re helping a child navigate complex experiences or are coming to terms with your own, exploring the differences between these concepts can provide much-needed perspective.

Emotions

Emotions are complex, subjective experiences involving feelings, physiological reactions, and behavioral responses triggered by internal or external stimuli. Individuals do not experience emotions consciously, occurring in the brain's limbic system. Learn more about which part of the brain controls emotions in our guide.

Some common emotions include:

  • Anger
  • Love
  • Sadness

Feelings

Feelings are subjective experiences that arise from emotions, shaped by personal perceptions and interpretations of emotional responses. Unlike emotions, feelings are conscious experiences.

Some common feelings include:

  • Embarrassment
  • Empathy
  • Curiosity

Moods

Moods encompass sustained emotional states that are less intense than emotions, influencing one's overall disposition and coloring their perceptions and behaviors over a more extended period.

Some common moods include:

  • Irritable
  • Energetic
  • Anxious

What’s the Difference Between Emotions, Feelings, and Moods?

Feelings are the longer-lasting result of emotions, which occur when the body responds to external stimuli. Feelings are our interpretation of these emotions. On the other hand, moods are generalized and last even longer — they aren’t uniquely tied to a specific instance.

For example, if you encounter something dangerous, you may have the emotional response of fear. Developing a fear response to the same stimulus might cause chronic feelings of anger, which can lead to depressive or agitated moods.

emotions vs feelings vs moods

Interconnection Between Emotions, Feelings, and Moods

Emotions, feelings, and moods impact our behavior, perception of the world, and how we interact with others. They influence each other in complex ways.

For instance, emotions trigger feelings, as they serve as the initial reaction to specific stimuli. If you receive good news, the initial happiness (emotion) eventually leads to a sense of joy and contentment (feeling).

How these personal experiences influence your feelings, then shape your future emotions. Someone who develops a positive outlook may face challenges with confidence and optimism.

Moods, longer-lasting emotional states, can influence how intensely someone experiences emotions. For instance, someone in a consistently positive mood may interpret challenging situations more optimistically.

As we age, we learn to better understand ourselves through our ability to recognize and process certain emotions. Simple activities like feelings check-ins can make us more in tune with our well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do some people experience emotions more intensely than others?

Experiencing emotions is nothing out of the ordinary, but experiencing them intensely may be due to genetics. According to research, 20% to 60% of an individual’s temperament, with another study revealing that 47% of the differences in sensitivity between twins were genetic [*].

Other reasons why an individual might experience emotions more intensely than others include:

  • Lack of sleep, causing a loss of focus, higher risk of anxiety, and trouble thinking
  • Lack of exercise, negatively impacting moods
  • Unhealthy diet, negatively impacting well-being
  • Stress or grief
  • Hormones
  • Existing mental health conditions

What role does culture play in shaping emotions, feelings, and moods?

Cultures often have distinct norms regarding how someone should express their emotions. Some cultures encourage open displays of emotions, while others value restraint and emotional control.

For instance, it’s socially acceptable for American teenagers to express negative emotions like sadness or anger, whereas most Japanese individuals only express these emotions in private [*].

How do emotions, feelings, and moods evolve over time?

Emotions, feelings, and moods evolve throughout various developmental stages. For instance, younger children may struggle to identify how they feel in response to their parents and peers. Thus, equipping them with tools like feelings charts and an emotions wheel can teach them to recognize their emotions.

As children better understand their emotions, they may experience them differently and more maturely.

Significant life experiences, such as relationships and career milestones, can also influence how an individual experiences various emotions.

Other factors that may influence how someone experiences their emotions, feelings, and moods over time include:

  • Hormonal changes
  • Health and well-being
  • Personal growth
  • Cognitive changes

The Bottom Line

Navigating emotions, feelings, and moods for the first time is no easy task for a young child. Even some adults struggle to identify and process complex emotions. However, equipping oneself with the appropriate tools and coping mechanisms can make us more flexible and agile as these dynamics change.

Becoming in tune with one’s emotions isn’t an easy journey. We’ve curated feelings worksheets to help make these learning experiences more approachable and enjoyable for both parent and child.

Sources:

  1. Elham et al. “Genetic architecture of Environmental Sensitivity reflects multiple heritable components: a twin study with adolescents.” Molecular Psychiatry, 2020.
  2. Worthy et al. “Emotions and Culture.” Maricopa.edu, 2020.

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