How Emotions Are Made

You have an emotion factory in your head. 

Emotions aren’t the raw material. They’re not even the end product. But they are manufactured along the way. 

Once you know they’re just one stop in a workflow, you can start to appreciate all of the mini-connections and feedback loops concurrently networking. 

All within your factory. 

(That last point is a big one, so I’ll say it again)

All within YOUR factory. 

Ever hear the word tsundoku?

It’s a Japanese noun. Tsundoku describes an unread book that’s been placed on a pile of other unread books. There’s no English language direct translation. 

But you get the vibe. 

In the Japanese language factory, they invented a word for something the English language factory never bothered to build. 

In the same way, your emotions are bespoke to you.

The life we live, passively and actively, leaves custom-built indentations all over our psyche. The same is true for everyone you know. Yes, even the idiots. 

There’s no fixed, or perfect, or exact version of any emotion. 

Which means there’s no exact input to create a specific emotion. 

There’s not even a prescribable pathway to process one emotion and trigger another one. 

Because an emotion is a personal check-in point on a far larger assembly line. 

Because an emotion is not a reaction to the world, it’s your construction of the world.

You’ll inevitably invent your own versions of things, like how the Japanese invented tsundoku, and the English never bothered.  

It’s liberating. I’ve learned this from the work of Lisa Feldman Barrett. The neuroscience on this is pretty incredible. 

If we aren’t bound by the precise essences of other’s experiences, we have more freedom to explore our own. 

If our past and future is what’s defining our present, we have a responsibility to consider how our factory is operating. 

And it extends so much further than our self-care. 

Because once you see it in others…

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. 

And your language means the limits of your world.

And our experiences – these stack. 

All of our factories. 

With all of our emotions inside of them. 

We really can (net)work better if we understand Barrett’s work.  Just remember to start with this understanding: we all have emotion factories inside of our heads, and that’s a feature, not a bug.

h/t How Emotions are Made, Seven and a Half Lessons about the Brain, and this brilliant summary post on The Marginalian