The Building Blocks of Emotions


Every emotion is either anger or anxiety.


A while back I read The Biological Basis for Teleological Concepts by Harry Binswanger, and I remember thinking, “If emotions are modes of operation, and value-directed action is encoded in our DNA, then there can be only two emotions—one driving you toward a value (anger), and one restraining you from a value (anxiety).”

It was a big thought for a 24-year-old to have, but I had a lot of free time, which wasn’t entirely spent drinking.

Until now, though, I haven’t spelled out how anger and anxiety combine to make up your every emotion. I’ve done this in my head, and I’ve elaborated on this to some extent in my ebooks, but it’s high time for a full breakdown of the main emotions to show how they’re all anxiety and anger—or the sublimated forms of your anxiety and anger: confidence and compassion, respectively.

Happiness. As I mentioned in Man’s Guide to Anger, happiness is what we feel when we learn to manage our anger and anxiety relatively well, and in relatively equal amounts. As such, we experience equal amounts of compassion and confidence. Compassion + confidence = happiness. Happiness can be difficult to achieve, especially if you have a lot of baggage, but it’s also the most resilient.

Joy. This is a short burst of happiness, and in that moment you’ve forgotten about your latent emotional baggage you have yet to handle. Joy is fleeting happiness, but it’s good to celebrate your advancement into psychological depths, and joy is that celebration. A stage most movies hit is called “joy of infancy regained,” which occurs in the third quarter, before the apotheosis, boon, and final conflict happens. The hero knows he’s not done, but he’s come a long way, so it’s good to have a little celebration. I remember feeling joy for the first time when I was 14-years-old. I had just gotten my first girlfriend, and I knew it wasn’t going to last and I knew my life was a mess regardless, but it felt good to be with her especially after what I had to go through to get her (which seemed like a big deal at the time but really wasn’t). Joy, you could say, is a chapter in the book of happiness. Though joy could also come from happiness, since happiness is nothing more than deep-seated joy.

Disgust. There are two kinds of disgust. The first is the biological aversion you have when your friend farts in your face, which is not an emotion but an affect based on a certain mind-body state. An evolutionary biologist will be able to tell you more about this kind of disgust than I could. (Though I could write volumes on how to fart in your friend’s face.) The second kind of disgust is, in short, anger empathized. It’s the anger form of pity, which we’ll get to next. So if someone is fat and it’s clear they’re not taking care of themselves, and taking care of yourself is a value for you, then you will feel disgust for that person because you are empathizing with their situation and thinking, “If I were you, I’d get my act together,” but they’re not, hence disgust. Disgust signifies a deep cleave in values between you and another person, which is why it’s a near 100 percent indicator of impending divorce when witnessed in couples.

Pity. As disgust is anger empathized, pity is sadness empathized. It occurs when you feel sadness for someone else because you’re putting yourself in their shoes and thinking, “If I were you, I would be depressed, because there’s no solution to your situation.” This translates to, “You’re a total loser.” Pity is the most contemptible emotion, and anyone who doesn’t see anything wrong with expressing it openly to another person is doing it as a status play, or they think suffering is normal. Either way, disconnect from them. This is why the late and great Christopher Hitchens would call Mother Teresa “the whore of Calcutta.”

Nostalgia. This occurs when you feel sadness about the past. It must necessarily be sadness because you will never get your need of having the past come alive because it is, after all, the past.

Grief. When the presence of anger and anxiety exist in relatively equal and beaucoup amounts, you get grief, so it’s the opposite of happiness. Grief is the most difficult to manage but there’s a good way to do it. If you feel a lot of anger and anxiety, but more anxiety than anger, you will not tend to feel the anger as much. Likewise, if you feel more anger than anxiety, you will tend not to feel the anxiety as much. This brings me to a cool emotional technique I mention in Man’s Guide to Identity: if you want to push through an anxious situation, get yourself worked up about it to feel more anger. If the anger is strong enough, it will drive you to your value more than your anxiety is restraining you from your value, and you’ll bulldoze right through the anxiety. While getting your need met, the anxiety will inevitably be managed. (Grief is often characterized as prolonged, deep depression. But depression is prolonged, deep sadness. So it does nothing for thought to have a term to denote the nth degree depression. Besides, the reason the depression is prolonged is because there’s a lot of anxiety in there, too.)

Desire. This is anger you feel good about, or anger regulated well after having consistently managed anger well in your past. There’s a need you have that’s clearly defined and just beyond the reach of your boundary. You’re about 50 percent sure you can get it met, which is the sweet spot for feeling the maximum amount of desire. If you were 80 percent sure, you wouldn’t try very hard, but if you were only 20 percent sure, you’d tend to give up and the desire would collapse into anger, which may eventually collapse into sadness.

Hope. Where nostalgia is sadness over a past you know will never happen again, hope is anxiety over a future you know will never happen. So hope is the inverse of nostalgia. It’s worth noting that hope was unheard of to the Greeks and even the Romans—it was an emotion they simply didn’t have a concept for. It wasn’t until Christianity and the rise of the Mediterranean Death Cults that hope was conceptualized and popularized, which makes sense. You know the Shangri-La afterlife you’re promised isn’t going to happen (I mean, everyone knows this deep down), but you still pine for it because it’s better than thinking about your miserable life here on earth. Be on the lookout for hope, which is often signaled by “I wish.” Along with nostalgia, it will undermine your masculinity faster than a Jewish mom.

Gratitude. This is when you remind yourself of your compassion. It’s like thinking, “oh yeah, maybe I don’t need to be so angry because I’ve gotten my needs met before.” Psychologists have made a big deal recently about being grateful and making gratitude lists, but psychologists are all girls—even the ones who are men—so they promote that which is conducive to the psychological health of the female, comfort and relaxation. Not that gratitude is terrible in itself, but if you’re a man I wouldn’t go out of your way to make yourself feel gratitude, unless you have anger or depression issues. It’s good to be weary of feeling a positive emotion without any action; you can get really good at convincing yourself to feel a certain way. Instead, I would suggest you partake in the actions that lead to you feeling good. This is why the best part about drinking is the hangovers, because now you need to work to feel good that day, and when you finally do by 800 pm, it feels way better than if you would have chanted your Sanskrit yoga peace words for 35 minutes.

Jealousy. Anger directed at the future. Someone has something you can never have.

Revenge. Anger directed at the past. Someone took something from you that you can never get back.

Worry. Anxiety directed at the future. You will experience a loss you cannot do anything about.

Regret. Anxiety directed at the past. You experienced a loss you cannot do anything about.

Relief. By confronting anxiety fully, with boldness, you achieve confidence. But when you confront your anxiety only to “get through” whatever the confrontation is, you will only feel relief, which is a low-grade confidence. If confidence is “I am capable,” then relief is “Well at least I didn’t die.” Sometimes it’s necessary to prove to yourself you won’t die by confronting anxiety before you can do it with boldness.

Frustration. When you feel perpetual anger over not getting a specific need met, then you feel frustration. Maybe your anger would collapse into sadness, but you have too much testosterone to care. Frustration seems like something to be avoided, but I would say if you’re not feeling some sort of frustration on a consistent basis, then you’re not trying hard enough.

Guilt. A mix of sadness and anxiety over something you did (or didn’t do) in the past causes guilt. It’s what you feel when you acted in a way that doesn’t align with your values. But the distinguishing characteristic of guilt, as opposed to shame, is you can do something to atone for what you did wrong when you feel guilty, as you may recall from Man’s Guide to Shame.

Shame. Speaking of, shame is no emotion in the traditional sense, since an emotion is a mode of operation; and it’s no affect in particular either. Which is why I wrote my masters thesis and a separate ebook about it. So instead of giving it a label, let’s just say what it is: When enough of the thoughts, experiences, memories, interpretations of memories, perceptions, and ideas in your subconscious are grouped together under the headings of either, “I’m worthless,” “I’m unlovable,” or “I’m defective,” then you feel the quasi-affect emotion known as shame. Shame can be at the root of, or as a result of, anxiety, anger, and sadness when it’s misunderstood, but it’s difficult to pin it down as one or the other. Especially since people tend to experience shame differently. It can manifest as either anxiety or anger, depending on the person and what they feel shame about. I tend to experience shame as boredom, and I know I’m not the only one who does.

Boredom. Speaking of, boredom is a low-grade anger.

Pride. This is compassion for yourself. It’s gratitude in action, but of a specific kind. The need you have met to feel pride is one you worked really hard on, and it took a lot of time, therefore implying the attainment of this need was tied to a lot of your deeply-held values. Graduating from medical school and becoming a doctor would be a source of pride. It takes all of your 20s and you need to sacrifice—ie invest—a lot to achieve it. The concept of pride, however, has been bastardized for thousands of years, which I discuss in An Answer to Icarus.

Emotions seem complicated to guys, so we tend turn away from them, hence Stoicism. But when we can piece our emotions together from building blocks, they become like a Lego set so even engineers can understand them.