4 Primary Emotions That Guide Everything – Happiness, Anger, Fear, Sadness

  • Time to read: 4 min.

There are four primary emotions that guide everything – happiness, anger, fear, sadness. They guide our thoughts and actions and act as a lens through which we experience the world and the people around us and significantly impact how we live and what steps we take or do not take daily.

Emotions Are Our Guide

Emotions are fundamental to our everyday navigation and offer a universal understanding of our feelings. For example, our facial features provide telling signs of when a person is happy, sad, afraid, or angry.

Many psychological studies  have attributed six emotions all humans are born with: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, and surprise. These emotions are so deeply rooted in our psyche that our bodies universally react in specific ways when expressing those emotions.

We can instinctively tell when a person feels happiness, as much as we can identify when a person carries sadness. Likewise, we are naturally alerted when we see expressive features such as yelling or the deer in a headlight look of lights when anger or fear is displayed. These adverse emotions can then potentially trigger our body’s flight or fight response to keep us safe from any harm.

From this list of six basic emotions, research by the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Glasgow  found four emotions we most commonly use in daily life. These emotive expressions include happiness, anger, fear, and sadness. However, it is refreshing to know that disgust and surprise are not used daily but for specific circumstances.


Happiness is one of the most recognizable emotions of the four mentioned. We physically express happiness through our facial features and signify a pleasant emotional state that elicits feelings of joy, contentment, and satisfaction. In heightened states of pleasure, our mood and confidence elevate, and our interactions feel fulfilling and pleasant, and we find ourselves smiling or laughing.


Anger arises from feelings of frustration, hostility, or disagreements. Anger initiates a ‘fight’ response in many people and is the most physically and mentally disruptive of all emotions.

Degrees of anger experienced by people vary, but most display a reddened complexion, a wrinkled nose, tightened or pursed lips, and eyebrows drawn together. While angry, these physical features and expressions are easily recognizable and are often a warning signs to those around them.

So in everyday life, if we see an angry person, it’s natural to want to avoid them.


The emotion of fear most commonly occurs when we experience extreme events in our lives. Fear arises when we feel apprehension, a sense of panic, or anxiety. Fear also happens when we are unfamiliar with an experience, such as walking into dark alleys or trying skydiving for the first time.

Physical events such as car accidents, storms, and physical or verbal confrontations also induce fear. Fear is one of the most prominent survival triggers of the four basic emotions. When we are afraid, our entire bodies tense, our lips purse or tighten, our jaws can clamp together, and our eyes become wide.

In addition, fear is one of the first responses to unfamiliar situations. If you’re someone who has a phobia, you’re not alone. While these are considered irrational fears when you are thinking about or facing your phobia, the emotion of fear heightens within you.

Phobias distort and often magnify the typical fear response in people and are not considered universal.  The good news is that the magnitude of fear can be suppressed with behavioral training or by using psychological techniques.

Learning to mediate can also help with the fear response. 


Sadness is the emotion felt throughout your body, and the words we use to describe our sadness include feelings of hopelessness, despair, disappointment, or grief.

Much like we recognize happy people around us, we also can recognize sadness in people’s facial features.

We cry when we express sadness.  Crying is often the release valve to stress, sadness and other feelings occurring within us.

Prolonged states of sadness are commonly associated with low mood or depression.

In Pursuit Of Happiness

We consciously or subconsciously use the 4 emotions, happiness, sadness, fear, anger, as a compass to navigate our daily lives.

We often base a lot of decision-making around these emotions.

We use emotions as a lens to view the world and interact with people around us, and without these emotions guiding us, we would not have a compass to guide us daily.

Most people are in constant pursuit to feel happiness, and people will actively and positively respond to events that bring them joy.

Therefore, we celebrate events that bring happiness, cherish the happiest moments in our lives, and constantly pursue what makes us the most satisfied.

Running From Fear

Our reactions are universally similar for more adverse emotions such as anger and fear.

Therefore, most will shy away from events or occasions that provoke sadness, fear, or anger.

For example, many people will avoid confrontations in their personal or work lives as they are prone to stir up anger or fear.

In addition, we all tend to avoid a person behaving angrily. 

With the four primary emotions, we can live very fulfilling lives, but we are often unaware of how emotions shape our lives, and we use happiness, sadness, anger, and fear to guide us.

As a result, we primarily strive for a sense of happiness, we take time to process sadness, and we avoid fearful emotional situations or events that provoke anger.

No matter how we feel, our emotions significantly affect our lives and interact with the people around us!

So smile and take stock of how this spreads to those around you.

Smile and take stock of how this spreads to those around you.

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