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


Emotions and feelings are often used interchangeably, but they really aren’t the same thing. So what is the difference between emotions and feelings and moods?

Let’s break down the difference and looking at proven ways to improve emotional literacy and emotional intelligence.

by Michael Miller



It’s Only a Matter of Time

The short answer is: Time. Emotions come first, then feelings come after as the emotion chemicals go to work in our bodies. Then moods develop from a combination of feelings.

Emotions are chemicals released in response to our interpretation of a specific trigger.  It takes our brains about 1/4 second to identify the trigger, and about another 1/4 second to produce the chemicals.  By the way, emotion chemicals are released throughout our bodies, not just in our brains, and they form a kind of feedback loop between our brains & bodies. They last for about six seconds – hence the name of our organization.

Feelings happen as we begin to integrate the emotion, to think about it, to “let it soak in.”  In English, we use “feel” for both physical and emotional sensation — we can say we physically feel cold, but we can also emotionally feel cold.  This is a clue to the meaning of “feeling,” it’s something we sense.  Feelings are more “cognitively saturated” as the emotion chemicals are processed in our brains & bodies. Feelings are often fueled by a mix of emotions, and last for longer than emotions.

Moods are more generalized.  They’re not tied to a specific incident, but a collection of inputs.  Mood is heavily influenced by several factors: the environment (weather, lighting, people around us), physiology (what we’ve been eating, how we’ve been exercising, how healthy we are), and finally our mental state (where we’re focusing attention and our current emotions). Moods can last minutes, hours, probably even days.

Top Resources to Understand Emotions and Feelings

1  Make sense of emotions with our interactive Plutchik Wheel

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions: Feelings Wheel

2   Go deeper into the neuroscience of emotions, with 7 quick facts:

7 Amazing Facts About Emotions You Should Know

3   Escape the negative emotions trap with a new perspective on emotions:

Integrated Emotions: Feelings Are Allies


Emotions and Feelings and Moods In Brief


What is Emotion?

Immediate physiological response to perceived stimulus. Chemicals released throughout our body that last about six seconds.

Why do we have Emotions?

Emotions continuously regulate every living cell to adapt to emerging threats and opportunities. They provide raw data about the world around us that is essential to our functioning.


What is Feeling?

The physical & mental sensations that arise as we internalize emotions. Feelings are cognitively saturated emotion chemicals.

Why do we have Feelings?

Feelings are how we begin to make meaning of emotion; they cause us to pay attention and react to the perceived threats or opportunities. We’re acting on emotional data.


What is Mood?

Mood is a mix of feelings and emotions as we go through our days; a mood is a semi-persistent mental + physical + emotional state.

Why do we have Moods?

Often the threats & opportunities that emotions and feelings signal are not just one-off; by having a lasting mood, we stay attuned to handle what’s next.



Emotional Intelligence Is Being Smarter with Feelings – Try It Out!

Want to understand your emotions and feelings? And feel less overwhelmed by them? Here are some resources to go deeper with emotional intelligence.

1 Name your feelings. Research has found this simple trick to provide an essential bridge between the emotional and cognitive parts of our brains.

2 Understand the function of all emotions. Check out this interactive online tool to explore the meaning and purpose of dozens of emotions, based on Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions.

3 Explore feelings with eMotion Feeling Cards. This deck encourages you to evoke, explore, express, and expand the world of feelings.

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