When a child sees a pretty red ball of yarn, he reaches out to get it, then puts it into his mouth, or unwinds it, and plays with it in various ways. It is all a matter of sensation and instinctive responses. The perception of the ball—seeing the ball—brings about the instinctive reaching out, grasping the ball, and bringing it to the mouth. But to complete our account, we must say that the child is pleased.
A child not only sees, not only acts, but the seeing and acting are pleasant. The child continues to look, he continues to act, because the looking and acting bring joy. This is typical of situations that bring pleasure. We want them continued; we act in a way to make them continue. We go out after the pleasure-giving thing.
A child sees on the hearth a glowing coal. It instinctively reaches out and grasps it, starts to draw the coal toward it, but instinctively drops it. This is not, however, the whole story. Instead of the situation being pleasant, it is decidedly unpleasant. The child fairly howls with pain. His face, instead of being wreathed in smiles, is covered with tears. He did not hold on to the coal. He did not try to continue the situation. On the contrary, he dropped the coal, and withdrew the hand. The body contracted and shrank away from the situation.
These two cases illustrate the two simple feelings, pleasantness and unpleasantness. Most situations in life are either pleasant or unpleasant. Situations may sometimes be neutral; that is, may arouse neither the feeling of pleasantness or unpleasantness. But usually a conscious state is either pleasant or unpleasant. A situation brings us life, joy, happiness. We want it continued and act in a way to bring about its continuance. Or the situation tends to take away our life, brings pain, sorrow, grief, and we want it discontinued, and act in a way to discontinue it.
Pleasure and displeasure are the simple feelings. Most situations in life bring about very complex feeling states known as emotions. It is well for us to remember the part that bodily conditions and states play in the emotional life. The emotional state of a man depends upon whether he has had his dinner or is hungry, whether the liver is working normally, and upon the condition of the various secreting and excreting organs and glands. In a word, it is evident that our emotions fall within a world of cause and effect. Our feeling states are caused. Nearly everything we do is prompted by love, or hate, or fear, or jealousy, or rivalry, or anger, or grief. What will one not do for the loved one? What will one not do to the hated one?
A mood is a somewhat extended emotional state continuing for hours or days. It is due to a continuance of the factors which cause it. The state of the liver and digestive organs may throw one for days into a cross and ugly mood. When the body becomes normal, the mood changes or disappears. Similarly, one may for hours or days be overjoyed, or depressed, or morose, or melancholy.
Some people are permanently optimistic, others pessimistic. Some are always joyful, others as constantly see only the dark side of life. Some are always serious and solemn, others always gay, even giddy. These permanent emotional attitudes constitute temperament, and are due to fundamental differences within the body that are in some cases hereditary. Crossness and moroseness, for example, may be due to a dyspeptic condition and a chronically bad liver. The happy dispositions belong to bodies whose organs are func tioning properly, in which assimilation is good—all the parts of the body doing their proper work.
The emotions and feelings, then, are not lawless and causeless, but are a part of a world of law and order. They are themselves caused and therefore subject to control and modification.
(Excerpts from Project Gutenberg's The Science of Human Nature, Chapter V, by William Henry Pyle)