Emotional Musings Provoked By Squirrels

I was watching squirrels this morning and enjoying their peanut-driven antics when my mind went on one of those tangents far afield, this time pursuing the question of emotions in animals. The squirrels appear to have them, but are they anything like ours? If animals didn’t have emotions, would anything ever happen? Then it hit me — emotions are the spur that keep us going.

This led me to enumerate some emotions and decide what I thought about their practical uses if not their evolutionary beginnings. Here are my positings:

Love – Without love, we wouldn’t raise our offspring, or if we did, we would raise them indifferently and perhaps our offspring wouldn’t turn out so well. Likewise, we wouldn’t be able to work together as we wouldn’t care enough about each other to bother.

Anger – Anger assists us in defending ourselves from petty annoyances and more damaging threats by making us very uncomfortable with whatever is making us angry.

Dislike – Feelings of dislike tend to cause avoidance, thus preventing wasteful and unnecessary conflict, as when one cat dislikes the other, but rather than fighting it off, simply chooses to stay out of its way.

Boredom – The feeling of discontent we feel when we have nothing to do prompts us to find some useful exercise to keep us busy – ideally that exercise would be some form of work, as work is necessary to survival.

Happiness – The feeling of happiness or contentment is relatively rare in the human world, but it furthers beneficial activities such as work, rest, and play by making them enjoyable.

Jealousy – It’s hard to put a positive human spin on jealousy, but amongst the critters, it is effective in a selfish “me and my tribe” kind of way to spur broader sharing of resources such as food. It inevitably results from competition, such as when the bluejays and the tufted titmouse both want the peanuts. (Some squabbling is implied.)

Frustration – Closely related to anger, frustration is the emotion that makes you want to scream but then nags you into solving the problem.

Excitement – The feeling of positive nervousness that precedes an anticipated event gives us energy with which to carry out the activity. Whether it’s a business meeting or a date with the enemy, excitement makes you want to take on the challenge.

Fear – The feeling of dread that comes when one feels in mortal danger can lead one to freeze, fight or flee, which may all aid in survival.

Anxiety – A feeling of dread closely associated with fear, anxiety is the nagging sense that something is wrong. Assuming that there is in fact an underlying reason to be concerned, anxiety can impel us to take measures to eliminate the source of anxiety and thus ensure safety.

Hatred – The feeling of absolute loathing and repulsion toward another being which we DO NOT LIKE, no way, no how, can lead to conflict and/or acts of violence. Usually, the hated party is deemed a threat, as when dogs or cats attack an intruder.

Joy – Joy is the sense of rapture — heightened spiritual pleasure — that can be aroused by situations of great beauty, grandeur, or magnitude. It’s what allows us to see something greater than ourselves and be part of the whole.

Peace – We usually don’t think of peace as an emotion — a better word might be acceptance. It is not content or discontent, positive or negative, it simply is. This feeling often accompanies death.


As noted above, these are not researched opinions, far from it. I just made them up off the top of my head. But it does seem as though thinking about emotions and where they come from could help us understand ourselves better and manage the emotions we have more effectively.

For instance, if you know that frustration just means you really need to solve the problem, then you can let go of hating the problem and wanting to smash it and just calmly, slowly even, set about understanding and solving it. If you know that dislike means that you have a deep underlying disharmony with someone (or something), then you can resolve to stay out of their way.

Hatred is a tougher emotion than all the others — it’s deeply wired and is a form of extreme self-protection. In the not-so-distant past, we would have dealt with an object of hatred by hanging it or stoning it to death. Hatred denotes something that we cannot abide and wish dead. These are not emotions that modern, new age people find comfortable, but we have them. Whether or not they’re justified is almost beside the point.

But since most of us find hatred troubling, here are some thoughts from my favorite Tarot deck regarding the Devil card, which is the closest the Tarot deck comes to presenting an object of hatred. Says the author, the Devil is what happens when you give up your power and let something outside you determine your destiny and control your life. But, she says, it’s all a matter of perception. You’re only powerless because you believe yourself to be. Once you recover your sense that your life is your own, you can lift off the yoke and walk free, at which the hated devil melts away. Admittedly, advice like this always seems easier said than done but it’s worth considering.

As for the squirrels, I don’t know if they feel joy or contentment or love or anger, but I’m guessing they do. Perhaps the harmony we sometimes feel in and with the natural world is a result of this emotional common ground that guides us all. In any event, emotions are a propellant — we can use them or get lost in them, but they will always be there provoking and guiding our actions whether we know it or like it or not.

Comments | 5

  • National Squirrel Appreciate Day

    Lise’s timing could not be better:


    • Squirrelly Coincidence

      Chris told me later that it was Squirrel Appreciation Day, but I didn’t know that at 8 am when I got thinking about this topic. I guess every day is Squirrel Appreciation Day at our house.

      Meanwhile, I realized this morning that I left off a couple big ones from my list of emotions — sadness and depression. I get those a lot which might be why I skipped them. Not sure how you can “use” those emotions which could be another reason.

      • squirrelly balm

        Lise, …thank you for posting your detailed account of emotions , especially as it was reflected  in your observation of squirrells. It’s nice when nature can afford us the oportunity to look into ourselves in this way.
          Here’s a little photo I’ve had for some time, can’t remember where I found it, but perhaps it could be a useful balm to soothe those last emotions which you added.

  • Squirrelly Entertainment

    Several years ago, we bottle-fed an orphan squirrel. There were four of them, fell from a tree in a windstorm. 2 already dead, a girl bleeding from her nose and mouth, and a boy with an injured leg. Their eyes were still closed and both of them fit together into a shirt pocket. The girl didn’t survive (likely internal injuries) but the boy healed and thrived! For a while he came everywhere with us for frequent feedings…he even came along on a Girl Scout trip to the Bronx Zoo! Puppy formula at first, then bananas and avocado, then all sorts of fruits, nuts and acorns.

    It was fun watching him in action (we’d let him run loose in the house under supervision). He’d use people as “trees” running up and down our bodies in a spiral pattern, and his favorite perches were shoulders and tops of heads. His tail was especially expressive; he’d hold it and move it differently with fear, excitement, curiosity, pleasure. And of course as a wraparound blanket when curled in a furry ball asleep.

    When he perfected the six-foot leap, we realized why squirrels aren’t recommended as house pets! His cage was first moved to the garage, then left with the door open for him to come and go, until one day he just didn’t come back. But we knew he was still in the neighborhood when a neighbor told us he’d come to their screen door (he would hang in the middle of the door with his claws, peering into the house when he wanted to come in). The neighbor got a good laugh about that, and we were happy to know he was alive and kicking (climbing)!

    • Squirrelfriend

      Over the last three years or so, we’ve become good friends with one of the squirrels in the yard. While the majority of them hop around and ignore us, there is one that recognizes us from afar and always comes to say hello.

      Sometimes we’ll give him/her peanuts, but not always. Sometimes we just walk up and down in the driveway together, or the squirrel will come up on the porch to say hi.

      We’ve been close enough to touch, and I’m debating whether to let this one climb on me if it wants. I think we’re both nervous about the possibility.

      A few years ago I remember rescuing a baby squirrel on our porch. It had been chased by a neighborhood cat onto the porch and was hiding in a berry box. Once it was safe, I carefully helped it find its way back outside. Maybe our squirrel friend is this one, grown up?

      It’s hard to tell squirrels apart. “Ours” has a very slight ring on the base of its tail, be we know it is the “right” one by the way it acts. A friendly hop over, a bit too close, and then standing on hind legs and pressing its little hands to its chest to say “it’s me!”

      It was nice to have one little furry friend after the cats were gone. I need animals.

      Of course, now I’ll end up grieving for a squirrel someday. Ack! I’ve heard they can live up to 20 years, but most get hit by cars and barely make it much more than a year or two. Ours is on borrowed time, and risks its future every time it has to run across Cedar Street. Stay safe, little one…

      Speaking of which, the car risk has gone up as the number of big, beautiful trees continues to decrease. Squirrels in the last few years here have lost an oak tree that fed them, and a maple tree that acted as a highway in the sky and safe route across the street. Most humans don’t seem to care.

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