What your Emotions are Trying to Tell you about Meaning

What Your Emotions are Trying to Tell you about Meaning


The first time I went to therapy was a little disappointing.  About 15 minutes in, the therapist asked me a question, I don’t even remember what it was now. I do remember that I put my head in my hands and started to cry. My therapist immediately leaned in and asked what had made me sad. I looked up at him and said, “Sad? I have no idea. That’s what I’m paying you for.”

It’s hard for some of us to recognize our emotions.



But when we lack an awareness of our emotions we miss out on what those emotions are trying to tell us, especially when it comes to meaning.

If I were to ask you right now what activities are most meaningful to you, you might be hard pressed to come up with an answer. Meaning is one of those things that you recognize when you see or feel it, but is often hard to define off the top of your head.

And that is where emotions come in handy. Becoming aware of your emotions, especially a certain category of emotions, can help you determine exactly what is meaningful so you can do more of those things, especially in your career.

If you want to really love what you do, you have to become more emotional about work.



The category of emotions that I am referring to is Powerful. But let me back up just a bit. There are six basic categories of emotions: Mad, Sad, Scared, Powerful, Peaceful, and Joyful. All the feelings that you could ever experience fall into one of these six groups.

When your needs are unmet, you will feel an emotion from one of the negative categories: mad, sad or scared. But when your needs are met, you will feel a positive feeling that falls underneath the heading of powerful, peaceful or joyful.

For example, when your needs for rest are met you will feel some form of peaceful. When your needs for play are met, you will feel some form of joyful. And here it comes…when your needs for purpose and meaning are met, you will feel some version of powerful. Powerful emotions signal significant, purposeful work. These are your moments of meaning, and they are probably happening without you even realizing it.



There are twelve types of powerful feelings. They are:

  • proud
  • important
  • hopeful
  • appreciated
  • faithful
  • respected
  • confident
  • intelligent
  • worthwhile
  • valuable
  • satisfied
  • cheerful

Pay close attention to these feelings during the day because they signal meaningful activities and experiences, work you’ll want to do more of if you want to live on mission.



Brandon is a litigation support attorney and a former client of mine. During my first meeting with Brandon, he told me that it was time for a radical change. He was planning to pivot into a brand-new career because after 12 years as an attorney, he was burned out and disenchanted with the law. Yes, he could make partner in another 3 years and yes, he had been quite successful, but as he said “there’s still something terminal under the hood.” When I asked him what he meant by that he said, “Dale no matter how many cases I win or how much money I make, the work just doesn’t feel meaningful.”

We started with some career and personality assessments and I had him look for powerful emotions during his day. The best way to do this, and what I suggested to Brandon, is to catch yourself feeling your feelings.

I had him set several timers on his phone that would go off at different times throughout the day. Whenever the timer went off, he would stop what he was doing, notice his emotion, and write it down. Like this,

7:28a hostile

I think he needed more coffee.

11:15a intelligent

12:45p valuable

4:30p discouraged

I had him do this for a week. But like me, Brandon wasn’t great at recognizing his emotions, so I gave him a Feelings Wheel to help.



A feelings wheel makes this process much easier, because multiple choice is always easier than fill in the blank.


Download your copy here.


This Feelings Wheel gives you seventy-two choices to assess what’s going on inside you, twelve for each core emotion: sad, mad, scared, peaceful, powerful, or joyful. The emotions in the two outside rings provide variations of those six base emotions. When determining what you are feeling, choose emotions from the two outer rings. There is nothing significant about the second versus the third ring. They are all equal variations of the base emotion.

If you identify an emotion from the pink wedge, then you’re feeling some version of joyful. If the word that best describes your state is in the green zone, then you are feeling some version of peaceful. You can be feeling multiple emotions, from different wedges, at the same time.

The yellow wedge indicates powerful emotions. These are feelings that point toward meaningful activities and experiences. When you are feeling any of the twelve emotions in the two yellow outer rings, in addition to the feeling of “powerful”, you are making a significant contribution or meaningful impact. Take note of what you have done that is giving you that feeling so you can do more of it, offering your best self to those around you.



 I had intended for this exercise to show Brandon what activities were meaningful to him that would point to other career options, but it actually had a different effect.

Brandon started to realize that there were more meaningful moments in his current job than he had been aware of. He often felt intelligent and valuable (two of the powerful emotions) when he was evaluating whether employees would qualify as claimants. He loved this part of his job because it aligned so well with his strengths of analysis and discernment. And he often lost track of time, an indicator of “flow,” the state of ultimate engagement and productivity when you do your very best work. Flow happens in meaningful moments.

In the end Brandon decided to stay where he was, in his firm, because when you tune into your emotions, sometimes you don’t have to look any further than your own backyard to make your difference.



I’ve logged many coaching and counseling hours in my life and can proudly say that I’m now aware of my emotions. This one skill has allowed me to uncover deeper meaning in my life and pursue what really matters. And it provided the direction I needed when my former life as a full time mom and part time faith based speaker came to an abrupt end and I had to pivot. The meaning that surfaced from my emotions led me to the work I do now as a professional life and career coach, keynote speaker, and course creator.

If you are searching for more meaning in your life or work, trying to make sense of your projects and understand what they have to do with your purpose, I can help. You have been equipped with strengths and talents that are meant to be used and a mission that you have been called to complete. Please don’t let one more day go in which you settle for work that provides only a paycheck or a path to advancement. You were designed for so much more. Live your calling, every moment of every day.

Take the Quiz to see if your life is full of meaning.