Rationality and Emotionality

Rationality and emotionality are essentially mental modes from which people operate. Emotionality serves a purpose, but rationality is the mode that generally serves us best, especially over time. Rationality should be embraced for many reasons, but the main reason rationality is promoted here is for its potential to optimize psychological health and well-being.

Many psychological problems can be attributed to emotionality being the predominant mode of processing and responding. Learning to principally engage rationality instead of emotionality will signifcantly help reduce the impacts of psychological problems, or eliminate them altogether.

The short of it: To improve basic psychological health, be less emotional and genuinely try to be more rational about your circumstances. 

Although that statement may be simplistic, it generally serves as a formidable principle for personal development.

The basis of rationality is rational thought. We all appeal to rational thought: it’s essentially responsible for how we’ve come this far as functional people. In psychology, rational thinking is a primary (although sometimes indirect) methodological goal of many common clinical treatmeants including CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), exposure therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and a host of others.

Rational thought is synonymous with a clear, organized mind and obviously sets the stage for rational behavior. It establishes greater awareness and understanding of the self and its circumstances, and it ultimately serves as an efficacious means of problem solving.

So let’s first explore what rationality actually is.

Rationality is “the quality or state of being rational: it is, a) having reason or understanding, and b) relating to, based on, or agreeable to reason.” (NOTE: this is the fundmental basis of general rationality, which is the root of what we’re discussing here, although it doesn’t necessarily represent all interdisciplinary interpretations or expanded definitions of rationality.)

To elaborate, rationality as a personal modus operandi means consciously choosing to operate from the structure of logic and reason and from a subsequent perspective of sensibility: it entails understanding function, seeking evidence and facts, analyzing information, indentifying needs, putting things in context, determining value, and necessarily accepting and applying the more sufficient option.

Rationality is a means of optimizing circumstances and increasing efficiency of mind and behavior. It espouses validity and stability, comprehension and order. It’s a focused attempt at correctness – at getting things right.

For additional clarity here’s what rationality is not:

Rationality is not a byproduct of disillusionment. It’s not simply acting from emotionlessness. Nor is it seeking out and solely attending to only the most salient elements while denying or ignoring everything else.

While rationality is generally indispensable for psychological health, emotionality is not (necessarily). This may seem counterintuitive since emotions are so integral to psychology, but psychological health is primarily associated with a rational mind and a subsequent mental-behavioral state of coherence. “Being emotional” is not itself indicative of psychological health, and in fact it can often indicate a lack thereof. It can be good, however, to consciously engage emotionality (so long as it doesn’t cross over into irrationality). When properly regulated, emotionality can be appropriate and advantageous in certain circumstances.

Let’s examine “emotionality” and how it operates:

Emotionality can be defined and referred to in the same basic manner as rationality: wherein rationality is the quality or state of being rational, emotionality (in the context of this post) is simply the quality or state of being emotional.

Moreover, emotionality is a personal “operational mode” in which emotion dictates thought and guides behavior: it’s a mindset that allows emotional processing and responding to serve in place of (or ahead of) reason.

So as a personal mode of operation, emotionality simply involves using the emotions, or feelings, as primary guides. It places the highest value on emotion and assumes that one’s feelings are of utmost importance. Basic emotionality in this sense can be purposeful, and sometimes preferred. If properly utilized and consciously engaged, it can help create and nourish meaningful relationships, and it can motivate and drive altruistic endeavors.

It’s important to note that being emotional can of course be rational in itself, so it’s not as if emotionality is entirely unsuitable and ineffective. The rational integration of emotion essentially involves determining the degree of rationality that emotions are carrying relative to the circumstances, then determining whether or not those emotions are valuable or appropriate enough to engage.

Understanding and distinguishing these concepts helps in optimizing psychological health and personal circumstances. While emotionality can be useful, it’s also likely a direct cause of personal instability when over-engaged. And while rationality might seem difficult to consistently implement, it remains the keystone of psychological well-being and is thus a worthy pursuit.

On our journey of attempting to live a healthy, happy, meaningful life, emotionality persistently beckons. But although our emotional landscape is often beautiful and fun to indulge, it can be very hard to traverse, or at least it can distract from what really matters.

Rationality is the operation that actually keeps us on track: Rationality is the vehicle, the driver, and the map for our journey, and to un-employ it would leave us lost.

When you experience psychological problems, try disengaging emotionality as your primary mode of thinking and being. Continue to be conscious of your emotional responding, of course, but try engaging rationality as your primary mode of thinking and being – it will make your journey of life so much smoother and will ultimately lead you to where you want to go.