Emotions have caught a bad rap recently. No one wants to catch feelings. Everyone wants to be *~chill~* at all times. While you may have repressed yourself to an almost April Ludgate level of emotionlessness, you probably still find yourself typing in all caps from time to time. Where do these dumb feelings even come from? Can you ever reach your cool guy actualization and ride your motorcycle into the “totally-not-a-big-deal-its-whatever” sunset?
While it certainly feels like a nuisance when fear causes you to freeze up when you finally reach the front of that endless coffee shop line because the barista just told you that there is no more chai tea so you are put on the spot to decide a completely new order in 2 seconds, evolutionary psychologists theorize that emotions are actually really great for humans! So, like most things, when you are accused of being too emotional, you can always blame your mom. Well, more like your mom’s mom’s mom’s mom^100.
According to evolutionary psychology pioneers and power couple John Tooby & Leda Cosmides, what are known as emotions today arose out of the multifaceted survival responses of your human ancestors. Simply put, your brain does a bunch of stuff all of the time. Right now you are actively thinking about what you are reading, but your brain is still telling your heart to beat, your lungs to take in oxygen, your guts to digest that snack from earlier, and even more! In an everyday setting, that's a breeze for that gray lump lugging around the old meat sack. At other times though, your brain needs to use its limited energy to get certain stuff done.
Think of your brain as a corporation with many divisions. You have Linda from perception, Greg in learning, Megan in attention, Scott from physiological responses, Anne Marie from energy levels, and so on. When things are going well outside the company, everybody gets along and does their job. When something goes wrong outside the company though, that issue needs to be focused on and fixed. In these times, your brain needs decide what divisions are most essential and emotions are the big wigs from corporate swooping in to save the day. They're running the show, telling Greg to stop bothering Megan with memorizing the Pythagorean theorem because she needs to concentrate on the jerk that just came into your lane without using his gosh darn blinker. Emotions are the overriding systems that tell our brain how to function most adaptively in the face of a problem.
Emotions give your brain and body the base to make effective decisions to act based on what is going on around you. So, while your problems today may look different than the bear that stalked your caveman cousins, your emotions can still clue you into important external cues that motivate your behavior. Something to keep in mind next time you get mad when your roommate leaves dishes in the sink -- YOU DESERVE BETTER. Thank you for the support, good ol’ brain.
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