Although feelings and emotions are two sides of the same coin, they are very distinct events and understanding the difference can help you increase your emotional intelligence and happiness.
Emotions originate in the subcortical regions of the brain, the amygdala and the ventromedial prefrontal cortices, and create biochemical reactions in the body altering your physical state which originally helped our species survive by producing quick reactions to threats and rewards. Emotional reactions are coded in our genes and are universally similar across all humans and even other species. For example, you smile and your dog wags its tail.
The amygdala, involved in emotional arousal, also regulate the release of neurotransmitters essential for memory consolidation which is why emotional memories can be so strong and long-lasting. Emotions proceed feelings, are physical, and instinctual. Because they’re physical, emotions can be objectively measured by blood flow, brain activity, facial micro-expressions, and body language.
Feelings originate in the neocortical regions of the brain, are mental associations and reactions to emotions, and are subjectively influenced by personal experience, beliefs, and memories. A feeling is the mental portrayal of what’s going on in your body when you have an emotion, and is the byproduct of your brain perceiving and assigning meaning to the emotion. Feelings follow emotion, involve cognitive input, are usually below conscious awareness, and cannot be measured scientifically.
Antonio D’Amasio, professor of neuroscience at The University of California and author of several books on the subject, explains it as: