Tools for describing feelings

For several years I’ve taught a summer course at the University of New Hampshire for kids from poor backgrounds who are preparing for college. The course is called “Success Studies” and it’s a combination of personal development and study skills. Basically I teach the kids how to use their minds effectively.

One strategy that’s particularly helpful for teens, but which actually applies to all of us, is refining and expanding our vocabulary for feelings and emotions. (Buddhism makes a distinction between feelings and emotions, but we’re not going to go into that here. I’ve explained the distinction elsewhere).

I’ve found the following two lists, which come from Nonviolent Communication (NVC) to be very helpful in expanding a feelings vocabulary:

How we are likely to feel when our needs are being met

absorbed, adventurous, affectionate, alert, alive, amazed, amused, animated, appreciative, ardent, aroused, astonished, blissful, breathless, buoyant, calm, carefree, caring, cheerful, comfortable, compassionate, complacent, composed, concerned, confident, contented, curious, delighted, eager, ebullient, ecstatic, effervescent, elated, enchanted, encouraged, energetic, engrossed, enlivened, enthusiastic, excited, exhilarated, expansive, expectant, exultant, fascinated, free, friendly, fulfilled, glad, gleeful, glorious, glowing, good-humored, grateful, gratified, happy, helpful, hopeful, inquisitive, inspired, intense, interested, intrigued, invigorated, involved, joyful, joyous, jubilant, keyed-up, loving, mellow, merry, mirthful, moved, optimistic, overjoyed, overwhelmed, peaceful, perky, pleasant, pleased, proud, quiet, radiant, rapturous, refreshed, relaxed, relieved, satisfied, secure, sensitive, serene, spellbound, splendid, stimulated, surprised, tender, thankful, thrilled, touched, tranquil, trusting, upbeat, warm, whole-hearted, wide-awake, wonderful, zestful.

How we are likely to feel when our needs are not being met

afraid, aggravated, agitated, alarmed, aloof, angry, anguished, annoyed, anxious, apathetic, apprehensive, aroused, ashamed, beat, bewildered, bitter, blue, bored, broken, chagrined, cold, concerned, confused, cross, dejected, depressed, despairing, despondent, detached, disaffected, disappointed, discouraged, disenchanted, disgruntled, disgusted, disheartened, dismayed, displeased, disquieted, distressed, disturbed, downcast, downhearted, dull, edgy, embarrassed, embittered, enraged, exasperated, exhausted, fatigued, fearful, fidgety, forlorn, frightened, frustrated, furious, gloomy, guilty, harried, heavy, helpless, hesitant, horrible, horrified, hostile, humdrum, hurt, impatient, indifferent, intense, irate, irked, irritated, jealous, jittery, keyed-up, lazy, leery, lethargic, listless, lonely, mad, mean, miserable, mopey, morose, mournful, nervous, nettled, numb, overwhelmed , pained, panicky, passive, perplexed, pessimistic, rancorous, reluctant, repelled, resentful, restless, sad, scared, sensitive, shaky, shocked, skeptical, sleepy, sorrowful, spiritless, startled, suspicious, tepid, terrified, tired, troubled, uncomfortable, uneasy, unglued, unhappy, unnerved, unsteady, upset, uptight, vexed, wary, weary, wistful, withdrawn, woeful, worried, wretched.

It’s good to use these lists in order to be more precise about how we’re feeling. All too often we just say we’re feeling “okay” or “not so good.” And people often use the same terms all the time! Being more descriptive helps break the sense I talked about elsewhere that your emotions are fixed and unchanging.

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