• Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions: A Handy Little Writing Tool

    “Change happens in the boiler room of our emotions. So find out how to light their fires.” — Jeff Dewar

    Headlines are the beginning of the reading journey.

    No matter how you cut it, your title determines how many people read your subtitle. Your subtitle determines how many people glance at your header image. Your header image reinforces the ideas of the headlines.

    Then someone clicks, or more likely, moves on to another piece.

    These three things combined paint a five-second picture in your readers’ mind of whether or not your work is worth their next five minutes of free time.

    And damn it if our free time isn’t precious these days.

    Or, more importantly, your readers’ free time.

    Let’s find the best of both worlds and improve our headlines’ effectiveness by adding emotion and feeling.

    If your writing is truly great, it needs a title to match.

    Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

    American psychologist Dr. Robert Plutchik spent decades of his life studying emotions in people. He ended up being famous for his below contribution to the world — aptly called Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions.

    The Wheel of Emotions by Dr. Robert Plutchik.
    Wheel of Emotions. Credit: Public Domain Wikimedia Commons

    He identified eight primary feelings that we all subscribe to at a basic level:

    1. Fear/terror
    2. Anger/rage
    3. Joy/ecstasy
    4. Sadness/grief
    5. Acceptance/trust
    6. Disgust/hate
    7. Anticipation
    8. Surprise

    Beyond that, he identified several layers of lower degrees.

    Annoyance rather than rage. Apprehension versus sheer terror.

    People mostly use it today as a form of self-reflection and in becoming more mindful. I hope he wouldn’t fully mind if I want to use it for another purpose — writing headlines!

    Make People Feel to Reel Them In

    I believe the same concept can apply to constructing our titles for whatever kind of story we write.

    You’ve spent hours, if not days, crafting your recent piece. Wouldn’t you hate it if the first sentence blocked 90% of people from reading your work?

    I would. And I certainly do.

    So why not spend a little extra time perfecting the gateway to our stories.

    Adding emotional feeling is certainly a great way to accomplish this. I’m sure you’ve heard of power words, trigger words, and every other kind of title “hack” you could think of.

    There are even dozens of headline analyzers that claim to help you find the right mix for your titles. Some editors swear by them.

    I personally find them lacking, even if they do help nudge me in the right direction. That’s why I started using my own system to improve my titles and increase the click-through rate of readers.

    I call it the Feel to Reel strategy.

    If you want to reel in a reader and entice them to spend their precious time, make them feel something first.

    Feel to Reel 3-Step Headline Writing Strategy

    This process shouldn’t be too hard to follow. Once you get used to it, it will only take an extra minute or two of your article creation time.

    Step 1: Write your article and edit it

    It doesn’t matter how great your headline is; you need to back it up with a great body of writing after.

    Write your story, edit it to perfection, and proceed to the next step.

    Step 2: Choose your feeling

    Of the eight identified primary feelings, which ones are most suited to the article you wrote?

    Feel to Reel by JJ Pryor.
    Feel to Reel, Image created by J.J. Pryor

    Feel free to pick more than one emotion, but try to keep it to two at most.

    Step 3: Choose your words

    Now that you’ve chosen one or two feelings that best suit your story, look through the below list and try to find one word from each emotion that best fits into your headline.

    Don’t forget to play around with the structure of the word, you amazing writer, you.


    Happiness, delight, pleasure, ecstatic, bliss, rapture, enjoyment, cheerful, elated, exhilaration, satisfied, gleeful, glad, joyful, cheerful, gratified, exultation, amusing, fun, merry, euphoric, excitement, jovial, lively, rejoice, triumph, zestful, exuberance, paradise, rejoice, glory, playful, enthusiasm, exaltation, heaven, light-hearted, joyous, jubilant, overjoyed, pleasant, thrilled, blessed.

    Examples with over 5,000 claps:

    • “The Pleasure of Clapping Back”
    • “Can You Enjoy Work Too Much?
    • “Ten Choices I’m Glad I Made and Ten I Wish I Hadn’t”


    Acknowledge, affirm, approve, favor, hold, recognize, trust, agree, respect,
    tolerate, absolute, authentic, authority, bold, brilliant, captivate, completely, conclusive, detailed, genuine, guaranteed, honest, legitimate, memorable, professional, promise, proven, reliable, respected, tested, safe, secure, healthy, smart, unmistakable, clear.

    Examples with over 5,000 claps:

    • “How to Recognize Real Love”
    • “Do Your Job and Trust the Process”
    • “You Can Never Demand Respect


    Shock, astonish, amazing, startle, astound, dumbfound, stagger, stun, wonder, surprising, astonishing, flabbergast, stupefy, confound, daze, jolt, bewilder, shake, floored, blow away, revelation, rock the boat, upset, ambush, awe, dazzle, disconcert, grab, discover, nab, capture, seize.

    Examples with over 5,000 claps:

    • “7 Reasons Why You Will Never Do Anything Amazing With Your Life”
    • “Ever Wonder Why the Most Popular Apps Are Starting to Look the Same?”
    • “The Astonishing Difference a Smile Can Make”


    Expect, predict, foresee, forecast, await, foretell, forebode, hope, forestall, promise, envisage, call, envision, counter, wait, foreshadow, prophesy, accelerate, advance, goal, prevent, announce, astonishing, rapid, hurry, rush, soon, ignite, sprint, streamline, crave, inspire, teaser, launch, learn, expect, urgent, now, warning, mystery, wishful, outlook, wonder, yearn, future, plan, desire, covet, yearn, forbidden.

    Examples with over 5,000 claps:

    • “5 Things to Expect When Dating a Mature Woman”
    • “Can One Word Predict the End of a Relationship?
    • “The Mystery of Color”


    Despise, aggravate, disturb, agony, annoy, dread, enrage, salty, revenge, fight, eliminate, fired, savage, assault, scream, atrocious, frantic, force, shatter, attack, frustrate, snarky, furious, severe, beat down, grumpy, hassle, hate, tantrum, terrible, break, bitter, dispute, panic, provoke, deadly, offend, conflict, toxic, touchy, insult, unnerve, malicious, cruel, curse, upset, violate, provoke, uproar, corrupt, insane, resent, wrathful, dispute, disgust, scam, steal.

    Examples with over 5,000 claps:

    • “Why You Make Terrible Life Choices”
    • “Uber’s Valuation is Insane
    • “The Truth About Toxic Workers in The Workplace”


    Danger, embarrassing, miss, panic, mistake, threat, abuse, cowardly, distressed, inferior, avoid, dreaded, unexpected, suspect, shun, worry, angst, anxiety, concern, despair, dismay, doubt, horror, scared, terror, uneasy, highjacking, abusive, forbidden, freaky, scam, alarming, scary, frightening, ghostly, overwhelm, scathing, self-destructive, grim, shady, gruesome, shocking, beware, hair-raising, brutal, harmful, soul-crushing, spine-chilling, hellish, hideous, crisis, cutthroat, alert, horrifying, lethal, daunting, sinister, poisonous, unspeakable, reckless, risky, vulnerable, sabotage, wicked, fatal, unsettling, painful, ominous.

    Examples with over 5,000 claps:

    • “The Danger in Fake Positivity”
    • “I Don’t Miss You Like I Used to”
    • Overwhelming Brutal Truths You Must Accept”


    Hatred, dislike, loathe, detest, abhor, despise, loathing, animosity, hostile, avert, disgust, antagonize, malice, scorn, resent, revenge, shun, awful, sickening, putrid, creepy, worthless, cringe, taboo, criminal, vile, disgraceful, vulgar, grimy, evil, slimy, foul, horrible, messy, appalling, junk, scandal, nasty, unattractive, nauseating, loathsome, obscene, wretched, obnoxious, humiliating, horrid, offensive, corrupt, shameful, rotten, dreadful, revolting.

    Examples with over 5,000 claps:

    • “The Absolute Best Way to Get Revenge
    • “Are You Aware of the Nasty Habits Killing Your Dreams?
    • “‘Find Your Passion’ is Awful Advice”


    Shameful, gloomy, agonizing, sluggish, grief, heartbreaking, cowardly, hurtful, tearful, inferior, crushing, dark, lacking, dead, tormenting, touching, deceptive, tragic, loser, loss, troubled, defeated, lowest, ugliest, miserable, misfortunate, unsuccessful, missed, awful, disappointing, disastrous, poor, dreadful, poverty, weep, failure, wrong, depressing, pathetic, upsetting, unsettling, unhappy, sorrowful, dejected, somber, woeful, despondent, melancholy, inconsolable, depressed, pity, joyless, dejected.

    Examples with over 5,000 claps:

    • “Why Listening to Sad Music Makes You Feel Better”
    • Ugly Truths About Working From Home”
    • “Why Highly Intelligent People Are Miserable

    Bonus Category: Curiosity

    Adding a bit of intrigue is also a huge factor for triggering people to click.

    Here are a few to use for that added feeling of wonder:

    Learn, harness, unveil, secret, uncover, discover, join, confidential, hidden, insider, private, secluded, exclusive, distinct, unique, peculiar, strange, bizarre, unusual, weird, extraordinary, odd, unconventional, eccentric, abnormal, unexpected, remarkable, mysterious, exotic, rare, puzzling, freakish.

    Examples with over 5,000 claps:

    • “20 Things Most People Learn Too Late in Life”
    • “The Secret to Apple’s New Fonts”
    • “How to Discover Your Genius”
    • “Welcome to the Club No One Wants to Join
    • “The Hidden Costs of Touchscreens”
    • “How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind — from a Former Insider
    • “When Did the American Dream Become Flying Private to Dubai?
    • “The Origins of America’s Unique and Spectacular Cruelty”
    • “The Strange Law of Love”
    • “11 Unusual Tips for How to Wake Up Early”
    • “22 Incredibly Weird but Profound Life Lessons”
    • “How to Make Someone Feel Extraordinary by Saying Very Little”
    • “Self-help for Nightowls and Odd Balls”
    • Unexpected Signs Your Life is Changing for the Better”

    J.J. Pryor

    Head over here for more of my written shenanigans.

  • The 27 Emotions List: What Recent Science Says We Feel

    “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, The Picture of Dorian Gray

    When talking about social media, politics, and $30 Starbucks coffees, we often feel a familiar combination of disgust and anger. But a study in 2017 came to the conclusion we have far more emotions despite what our modern internet age tells us.

    In 2017, two researchers from the University of California, Berkely, Alan S. Cowen, and Dacher Keltner, PhD, came to the conclusion there are 27 distinct classifications of emotions in humans.

    In fact, their study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal was the largest collection of emotional data to date!

    They used new forms of statistical analysis to analyze 324,066 individual judgments from over 800 people using Amazon Mechanical Turk.

    Cowen and Keltner initially collected 2,185 five-second videos with the goal of eliciting as many emotions as possible. The videos included births, babies, weddings, death, cute animals, art, explosions, sexual acts, and everything in between.

    They showed these videos to the study participants and had them report their emotional responses in the form of free form, ratings, or on a scale of one to nine for other dimensions such as positive versus negative experience, etc.

    Their results?

    They found 27 statistically provable emotions felt by the individuals in their study.

    The 27 Emotions List

    So, what are the 27 emotions Cowen and Keltner identified?

    Admiration, adoration, aesthetic appreciation, amusement, anger, anxiety, awe, awkwardness, boredom, calmness, confusion, craving, disgust, empathic pain, entrancement, excitement, fear, horror, interest, joy, nostalgia, relief, romance, sadness, satisfaction, sexual desire, and surprise.

    Here’s the list in alphabetical order as well as links to their definitions.

    Emotions aren’t on an island

    We should note the study might not be perfect and there could be far more or fewer emotions experienced in real life. Additionally, the collection of data was based on self-reported answers.

    As the authors noted, “self-report measures only partially capture; self-report is not a direct readout of experience.”

    But it’s cool to think there are some universally identifiable emotions, potentially across cultural, geographical, and linguistic barriers, too (although this wasn’t assessed in the study).

    The 27 emotions identified also aren’t supposed to be thought of as sitting on a lonely island. Keltner said:

    “There are smooth gradients of emotion between, say, awe and peacefulness, horror and sadness, and amusement and adoration.”

    Life, after all, isn’t composed of simple 0s and 1s, even if many of like to think of such binary terms. The other author, Cowen, mentioned:

    “We don’t get finite clusters of emotions in the map because everything is interconnected. Emotional experiences are so much richer and more nuanced than previously thought.”

    If you’re interested in knowing more about the study or seeing how the videos were mapped out by participants in terms of emotions, the authors created an interactive map (viewer discretion advised).

    What other theories of emotion are there?

    Psychology is often not an exact science, and whenever this occurs you’ll find multiple theories explaining how our internals work and function. Here are a few of the main alternate theories on how many emotions people actually have.

    Charles Darwin’s theory of emotions

    After publishing On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin released his third major piece on evolutionary psychology called The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. In this book, Darwin explores the universality of emotions among animals and humankind, and discusses 34 separate emotions:

    1. Anxiety
    2. Devotion
    3. High spirits
    4. Low spirits
    5. Patience
    6. Affirmation
    7. Negation
    8. Surprise
    9. Joy
    10. Love
    11. Hatred
    12. Disdain
    13. Contempt
    14. Tender feelings
    15. Suffering
    16. Weeping
    17. Grief
    18. Blushing
    19. Reflection
    20. Mediation
    21. Determination
    22. Dejection
    23. Despair
    24. Anger
    25. Disgust
    26. Guilt
    27. Pride
    28. Helplessness
    29. Ill-temper
    30. Sulkiness
    31. Fear
    32. Self-attention
    33. Shyness
    34. Modesty

    His conclusion showed he believed there were six basic shared emotional states: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust.

    Robert Plutchik’s theory of emotions

    The prolific psychologist Robert Plutchik had a focus on emotional responses and how they might influence people. As part of his research, he came to the conclusion that people possess eight primary emotions:

    1. Fear
    2. Anger
    3. Joy
    4. Sadness
    5. Acceptance
    6. Disgust
    7. Anticipation
    8. Surprise

    If you’ve ever studied writing before, you’re probably familiar with Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions, which aims to illustrate his theory in a color wheel. It’s a good tool for authors looking to explore their characters’ different emotions and feelings when stuck for words.

    Discrete emotion theory

    This theory has been in development since Darwin’s work mentioned above. It’s along the same idea — that humans universally experience a set of distinct emotions. In the latest iteration of the theory, psychologist Carroll Izard proposes there are 12 discrete emotions shared by humans:

    1. Interest
    2. Joy
    3. Surprise
    4. Sadness
    5. Anger
    6. Disgust
    7. Contempt
    8. Self-hostility
    9. Fear
    10. Shame
    11. Shyness
    12. Guilt

    Book two of Aristotle’s theory

    In book two of Aristotle’s classic, Rhetoric, he outlines a series of 14 emotions he thinks are universal. But note they might be considered somewhat dated as this was released around 2400 years ago.

    Aristotle’s list of emotions included:

    • Anger
    • Calm
    • Friendship
    • Enmity
    • Fear
    • Confidence
    • Shame
    • Shamelessness
    • Kindness
    • Unkindness
    • Pity
    • Indignation
    • Envy
    • Emulation


    According to researchers, we humble humans experience over 6,000 thoughts per day. At least 90% of our waking hours also constitute at least one ongoing emotion. And this jumps between 3 to 30 separate emotions depending on different studies.

    In short, while different researchers posit we might have 6, 8, or even 27 distinct emotions throughout our lives, the absolute truth is, we are emotional beasts!

    We experience anger while feeling sad when a loved one gets taken away too early. We feel joy and anticipation when we make progress on personal projects. Our emotions are truly a wheel of craziness that scientists might never nail down to their exact parts.

    But that’s okay, because at the end of the day, knowing how to control and take advantage of your own emotions is probably more important than knowing the distinct number of them available to the human species.

    And for that, your best bet is probably learning about the different forms of meditation — something scientifically proven to help us regulate our mood and bring on an increased level of relaxation and contentment.

    J.J. Pryor

    Head over here for more of my written shenanigans.