How to tap your emotions’ potential

Counteract negative emotions and feel more alive while living

Thrive invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.
Photo by Paz Arando on Unsplash

“I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.” — Oscar Wilde

As a psychology student, I’m well known with the fact that thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all interconnected. What you think can affect your emotions. What you feel can alter your behavior. The way you behave can change your though process. 

Because of this premise, you can activate your emotions through behavior, if you happen to be stuck in a dark place. As of personal experience, I know how it’s like. 

I had a knife pointed towards me once, and it was my own hands that held the blade. I had recently experienced a breakup, and I felt as if I was about to lose myself — in addition to losing the relationship. 

Luckily, I didn’t harm myself that time. There was something within me — a fraction of a spark — that wanted me to live. I put the knife back to its place.

It’s in moments like these, the darkest times of life, that you really get to experience another side of yourselves. It’s hard to see clearly. Your perception is clouded, the rational element of being has degraded into chaos, and you can almost kick your feet against the ground. Every inch of you — and every breath you exhale — is covered in dust. Your neurological wiring cannot seem to find any traction against the good. It has snapped away from positivity, and it’s struggling to get back. There’s no chemical warfare in your brain. You’ve lost to the darkness.

The potential within

Just as you can snap into negative emotional patterns, you can get yourself into positive ones. I learned this first hand, as I fought my way back from the darkness.

Every experience you’re capable of having, maps onto the neurological structures of your brain and nervous system. Behavior, thoughts and feelings, all lies within your biological makeup — everything with it’s corresponding circuit of neurons. This means that the key to feeling alive — positive emotions, purpose, and meaning — lies within. You just have to tap into it. You have to activate the right emotions.

Unstuck yourself.

You’re not your emotions

It’s a common misunderstanding — and a dangerous trap to fall into — that you somehow ‘are’ your emotions. You’re not. It’s why people with depression are advised to keep activate. They need to counteract the behavior that their thoughts and emotions scream for.

It also explains why people shouldn’t listen to sad music when they’re sad. It’ll only make matters worse. Conversely, uplifting music will counteract the negative emotions.

Even if you feel shitty, you can still behave in a way that contradicts — and in turn — shapes your emotions.

When you understand this, you widen the playfield. 

The basic emotions, and how to tap them

“Emotional processes promote art, movies, music, poetry, rhetoric, theatre, etcetera.” — Jaak Panksepp

For an emotion to be experienced, the circuits that guard them must be set in motion. You can do this with behavior and thoughts.

In the revolutionary neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp’s view, there are seven primary systems. Four emotional circuits for positive emotions: seeking, lust, care and play/happiness, and three emotional circuitries for negative emotions: Fear, rage/anger and panic/sadness. 

Obviously, it’s the positive circuits that you seek to activate.

“The underlying circuits for primary-process emotions were evolutionarily programmed/prewired, albeit also epigenetically “shaped.” They are psychologically primitive and “building blocks” for higher emotions. Basic emotions are tools for living that are inherited potentials of the brain.”

These basic emotions cover the whole spectrum of human experience. With any one of them missing, you will not feel complete fulfillment. It is why you should activate them. They’re keys to feeling alive.


Seeking is an environmental system. This means, in order to activate it, you have to interact with the environment. 

The system incorporates the desire to find resources and explore the world, and it’s where your interest and goal-directed behavior lies. It’s basically a motivational system. Tapping into it will drive you forward.

Further, this system helps you mediate your desires, the hunt for resources, and your positive expectancies about the world. 

It is interesting to note that, without this system in place, the other systems cannot begin to function properly. Panksepp thought it to be the grand underlying system. 

Here’s how to activate it:

  • Set goals
  • Explore the world
  • Face your fears
  • Have courage
  • Reach for your highest potential
  • Develop your skills
  • Be curious 
  • Constantly seek to improve yourself
  • Ba a learner
  • Read
  • Face it all with the proper attitude

“Throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — H. Jackson Brown Jr.


Lust is a social system. This means, you need to interact with others in order to activate it.

Within this system lies the ability to have passionate feelings towards others —  sex and love. 

Here’s how to activate it:

  • Fulfill your sexual desires
  • Develop passion in your relationships
  • Interact with desirable others

“Each of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can’t strike them all by ourselves.” — Laura Esquivel


Care is another social system. It gives you the ability to care and feel empathy to others. 

“And where would we mammals be if we did not have brain systems to take CARE of each other? Extinct! The maternal instinct, so rich in every species of mammal, allows us to propagate effectively down generations. To have left this to chance, or the vagaries of individual learning, would have assured the end of our line of ascent.” — Jaak Panksepp

Here’s how to activate it:

  • Interact with people 
  • Love 
  • Spend time with your friends and family
  • Devote yourself to a purpose, higher than yourself
  • Give to charity
  • Help those in need
  • Serve others
  • Be a giver
  • Take the perspective of others
  • Communicate
  • Deploy empathy


Play is also a social system. The system is associated with happiness, and helps you navigate social possibilities in a joyful way. Social knowledge and moral behavior lies here too.

Here’s how to activate it:

  • Spend time doing what you love
  • Make time for leisure
  • Nurture your hobbies
  • Participate in social activities
  • Party
  • Exercise
  • Have fun with other people
  • Get into flow

The play circuit is evident in children, but as we grow up, we tend to forget this. Play is a large part of life, and Friedrich Nietzsche recognized this;

“A man’s maturity is to have rediscovered the seriousness he possessed as a child at play.”

Wrap up

These are the primary emotional systems. 

If you’re ever stuck, or feel like there’s something missing to life, remember to activate the proper emotions. The potential lies within you.

  • Seeking — interact with the environment
  • Lust — interact with others
  • Care — interact with the others
  • Play — interact with the others

As you can see, most of the systems are social. You need others in order to activate them. It’s no wonder. Humans are social animals, and relationships gives our lives meaning. It’s like Marcus Aurelius said;

“We are born above all for the sake of each other.”

The behaviors that I’ve listed are only suggestions. There are other ways to tap into them as well. The point is; it doesn’t matter as much what you do, but how you’ll feel as a result of it. There are many ways to feel alive.

Note: If you’re really struggling with your mental health, the first priority should be to seek out a professional. There’s no shame in doing so. In fact, I did so myself.

Thanks for reading! If you want more stuff like this, sign up for my free newsletter!

Originally published at

You might also like...


Being a Dad: The Easier Way

by Emilio Diez Barroso

4 self-care habits that boost your happiness and mental wellbeing

by Chi Nguyen

Does the Term “Self-Care” Nauseate You?

by Dr. Kris
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.