BACKGROUND ILLUSTRATIONS BY SEAN MCCABE; AFRICA STUDIO/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM (HAPPY GIRL)

STANDARDS

NGSS: Core Idea: LS1.A    

CCSS: Writing: 8    

TEKS: Science: 3.2D, 4.2D, 5.2D, 6.2E; ELA: 3.6E, 4.6E, 5.6E, 6.5E

What a Feeling!

A user's guide to your everyday emotions

You score the winning goal in your soccer game. You learn your best friend is moving away. You hear creaky noises in your attic when you’re trying to fall asleep.

These moments might make you feel happy, sad, or afraid. When you have a strong emotion, your brain activates body systems that spark changes you can feel. Your stomach churns. Your heart races. You shed tears of sadness—or joy.

Not all emotions are fun, but even painful ones help us survive. “Emotions give us information about the world that helps us know how to react,” says Jamie Howard. She’s a psychologist at the Child Mind Institute in New York City. She works with kids to help them manage their emotions.

The more you know about emotions, the easier they are to handle, says Howard. Here’s a closer look at five common emotions you might feel.

You score the winning goal in your soccer game. You learn your best friend is moving away. You hear creaky noises in your attic at night

These moments might make you feel happy, sad, or afraid. These emotions cause your brain send signals throughout your body. They spark changes you can feel. Your stomach churns. Your heart races. You cry tears of sadness or joy.

Not all emotions are fun. But even painful ones help us survive. “Emotions give us information about the world that helps us know how to react,” says Jamie Howard. She’s a psychologist. She works at the Child Mind Institute in New York City. There, she helps kids deal with their emotions.

Knowing more about emotions makes them easier to handle, says Howard. Here’s a closer look at five common emotions you might feel. 

Happiness

What makes you feel joy? What about excitement, amusement, or relief? Different experiences spark these emotions in different people, but they’re all types of happiness.

Scientists have found that certain chemicals flood people’s brains when they feel happy emotions. These substances make us feel good to reward us for doing something that benefits us, like accomplishing a goal or learning something new. 

If you’re feeling down, many healthy activities can trigger your brain to produce these substances. Studies have shown that being kind to others causes our brains to produce mood-boosting chemicals. Exercising, spending time outdoors, and laughing are all known to spark happiness.

What makes you feel joy? How about excitement or relief? How do you feel when you find something hilarious? Different things spark these emotions in different people. But they’re all types of happiness.

Something happens in people’s brains when they feel happy. Scientists have found that they’re flooded with certain chemicals. These substances make us feel good. They reward us for doing something that benefits us. That includes things like achieving a goal or learning something new.

Many healthy activities can cause your brain to make these substances. That can help if you’re feeling down. Studies show that being kind to others causes our brains to make mood-boosting chemicals. So do exercising and spending time outdoors. Laughing is also known to spark happiness.

BACKGROUND ILLUSTRATIONS BY SEAN MCCABE; SPL/SCIENCE SOURCE (ANGRY BOY)

Anger

A classmate steals your homework and passes it off as hers. Your sibling turns off your video game as you reach the final level. Would these situations make your blood boil?

People often feel angry when they encounter something that seems unfair, says Howard. When you’re angry, your body prepares for action. It releases a hormone called adrenaline into your bloodstream. This makes your heart beat faster and sends extra blood to your muscles.  

These changes give you the energy to challenge your situation. This can be a good thing. Anger can motivate you to stand up for yourself or take action when something isn’t right.

But it’s important to express anger in a positive way, says Howard. “That means sticking up for yourself, but still being fair.”

A classmate steals your homework. Then she passes it off as hers. You reach the final level in a video game. Then your brother or sister turns off the game. Would these things make your blood boil?

People often feel angry when something seems unfair, says Howard. Your body gets ready for action when you’re angry. It releases a hormone into your bloodstream. It’s called adrenaline. It makes your heart beat faster. It also sends extra blood to your muscles. 

These changes give you the energy to face what’s happening. That can be a good thing. Anger can motivate you to stand up for yourself. It can help you take action when something isn’t right.

But it’s important to express anger in a positive way, says Howard. “That means sticking up for yourself, but still being fair.”

BACKGROUND ILLUSTRATIONS BY SEAN MCCABE; PHOTOGRAPHEE.EU/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM (SAD BOY)

Sadness

A pet passes away. A friend suddenly stops talking to you. You’re not picked for the school play. These situations are likely to make you feel sad.

Sadness is typically triggered by some type of loss, says Howard. When people are sad, they can feel tired and empty. People often lose their appetite or have trouble sleeping.

But like all emotions, sadness serves a purpose. Feeling sad when we lose someone can motivate us to stay connected with others. Research shows that bouts of sadness can also boost feelings of empathy.

Spending time with loved ones can help you cope with sadness. “There’s an urge to isolate yourself when you feel sad, but that is not helpful,” says Howard. “I encourage people to do the opposite.”

A pet passes away. A friend suddenly stops talking to you. You’re not picked for the school play. These things are likely to make you feel sad.

Some type of loss usually causes sadness, says Howard. People can feel tired and empty when they’re sad. People often don’t want to eat. They have trouble sleeping.

But sadness serves a purpose like all emotions. We feel sad when we lose someone. That can inspire us to stay connected with others. Research shows that bouts of sadness can also boost feelings of empathy.

How can you cope with sadness? One way is to spend time with loved ones. “There’s an urge to isolate yourself when you feel sad, but that is not helpful,” says Howard. “I encourage people to do the opposite.”

BACKGROUND ILLUSTRATIONS BY SEAN MCCABE; OLEG GOLOVNEV/EYEEM/GETTY IMAGES (SCARED GIRL)

Fear

What are you afraid of? Some of Americans’ most common fears are public speaking, heights, insects, and snakes.

Fear can feel a lot like anger in your body. But when people are afraid, they usually want to run away rather than stay and fight, says Howard. In this way, fear protects us from nearby threats.

But what do you do if you’re afraid of things that are actually harmless, like giving a speech or going outdoors? Howard encourages kids with irrational fears to pay close attention to “thinking traps”—repeating thoughts that don’t make logical sense. Then Howard helps kids gradually face the things they fear. 

What are you afraid of? Some of Americans’ most common fears are public speaking, heights, insects, and snakes.

Fear can feel a lot like anger in your body. But people don’t usually want to stay and fight when afraid. They want to run away, says Howard. Fear protects us from nearby threats in this way.

But sometimes things people are afraid of are harmless. Some examples are giving a speech or going outdoors. Howard urges kids with these types of fears to pay close attention to “thinking traps.” Those are repeating thoughts that don’t make sense. Then Howard helps these kids slowly face the things they fear.

BACKGROUND ILLUSTRATIONS BY SEAN MCCABE; KWANCHAI.C/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM (DISGUSTED BOY)

Disgust

Snot, vomit, rotting food. Are you gagging yet? Certain things make nearly everybody go “Eew!”

You may not think of disgust as an emotion, but it’s an important one for human survival. Disgust is your brain’s way of keeping you away from things that might make you sick. When something looks, smells, or tastes gross, you feel the urge to steer clear.

What people find disgusting varies among cultures and even from person to person. But if their brain reacts with disgust to everyday things, like doorknobs or dogs, it can lead to anxiety. In that case, Howard helps kids gradually expose themselves to things they find disgusting. Over time, the feeling of disgust usually lessens.

Snot, vomit, rotting food. Are you gagging yet? Certain things make nearly everybody go “Eew!”

You may not think of disgust as an emotion. But it’s an important emotion for human survival. Disgust is your brain’s way of keeping you away from things that might make you sick. Sometimes things look, smell, or taste gross. Then you feel the urge to steer clear.

What people find disgusting is different across cultures. It even also changes from person to person. But sometimes, a person’s brain reacts with disgust to everyday things, like doorknobs or dogs. That can lead to anxiety. Howard helps kids slowly get used to things they find disgusting. The feeling of disgust usually lessens over time.

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