Happiness and other important emotions

Happiness and other important emotions

Check out this very interesting article about the most important emotions…very relevant to happiness!

Five emotions you never knew you had http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20527431.300-five-emotions-you-never-knew-you-had.html

[Editorial appended.]

* 13 January 2010

CAN you name the six basic emotions? Take a straw poll of your friends and we guarantee that you will find no consensus. Yet psychologists are unequivocal: joy, sadness, anger, fear, surprise and disgust. These are the Big Six, quite literally, the in-your-face emotions–the ones that everyone the world over exhibits with the same dramatic and characteristic facial expressions. They have been the subjects of intense research for over half a century, not least because of the role they have played in our survival as a species.

Times have changed, though. Our ancestors may have had daily need of fear to flee predators, anger to conquer foes and disgust to avoid diseases, but we live in a more subtle world in which other emotions have come to the fore. There are many contenders. Avarice, embarrassment, boredom, depression, jealousy and love, for example, might epitomise the modern age. Yet some more obscure emotions may be increasingly relevant today. Here we explore five of them, any one of which could make a case to be promoted to a place alongside the Big Six.


The uplifting emotion

“Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”

In the midst of last year’s economic turmoil Dr. Obama’s inauguration speech was powerful, inspiring stuff. Some of his supporters, hanging on his every word, will have had tears in their eyes, a tingling sensation on the back of their necks and a warm feeling in their chest as though it was opening up to let love and hope flood out. This feeling is what [13]Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, has labelled “elevation”.

Elevation seems to be a universal feeling. Although not yet studied in modern-day pre-literate societies, it has been documented in people from Japan, India, the US and the Palestinian territories.

That puts it in the same league as the Big Six. But to be considered as a basic emotion it should also have a purpose. If emotions are to fulfil their role as survival aids, they must motivate activities that help us thrive. So what is elevation for? Originally Haidt thought that it makes us nobler towards others. But when he asked volunteers to watch either an uplifting episode of Oprah or a non-uplifting scene from the sitcom Seinfeld, and then gave them a chance to help a stranger, there was no difference in behaviour between the two groups.

Haidt’s next idea was born of the choked feelings that people often report when they describe experiencing elevation. This hints that the vagus nerve is involved because it is responsible for stimulating the throat and neck muscles. Activation of the vagus nerve is also linked to the release of a hormone called oxytocin, which generates warm, calm feelings–just the sort associated with elevation. Could oxytocin be the key? The inspiration for how to test this idea came from his student, Jennifer Silvers, who pointed out that oxytocin makes nursing mothers release milk.

So in a second round of experiments, Haidt and Silvers showed the same videos to breastfeeding mothers. They found that after watching Oprah mothers were more likely to leak milk into a nursing pad. They also spent more time nursing and hugging their babies than the mothers who watched the Seinfeld video (Emotion, vol 8, p 291).

“Oxytocin doesn’t make people go out and give money to charity, it doesn’t make people help strangers jump-start their cars, it makes them want to touch, hug and be more open and trusting with each other,” says Haidt.

So elevation has a physiological component and motivational one too.

However, unlike the Big Six emotions, it does not have an obvious characteristic facial expression, which may explain why it has slipped under the research radar for so long. If you appreciate the context, you may be able to detect a slight softening of the features, says Haidt. Sometimes the eyebrows are raised as if the person is sad.

Elevation is also relatively rare. People typically experience it less than once a week, although there are wide individual differences. Where it does score, though, is in being highly significant. “If you ask people to remember their most cherished experiences of their whole life, elevatory moments are likely to feature in their top five,” says Haidt. What’s more, if we can harness elevation to build trust, it could have particular relevance in the modern world for strengthening or repairing personal relationships. Haidt envisages a time, for example, when marital therapists might try to induce it so as to enhance the effectiveness of couples’ counselling sessions.


The curious emotion

Your head tilts to one side, your speech quickens and the muscles in your forehead and around your eyes contract as you become engrossed in mastering a bassoon sonata, understanding the thermodynamics of the universe, or perhaps just browsing your stamp collection.

Interest may be trickier to pin down than fear or joy but it nevertheless possesses one of the hallmarks of a basic emotion–its own facial expression. Since the 1960s when [14]Paul Ekman pioneered the field, psychologists have looked for universal, characteristic facial expressions to help measure and classify emotions.

Interest also seems to have a purpose. Psychologist [15]Paul Silvia at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, believes it motivates people to learn–not for money, not for an exam, but for its own sake, to increase their knowledge just because they want to.

This could explain why interest has come into its own in the modern world. It can be seen as a counterbalance to the fear and anxiety that surrounds unfamiliar experiences. Without interest we would shy away from new or complicated things because they tend to make us nervous. “This makes sense if we think in terms of evolutionary history, as unfamiliar situations could often be dangerous,” says Silvia. “But in the modern world, it would be disastrous because we couldn’t flourish intellectually.”

Another strong argument for interest deserving a status boost is that it can go wrong. One criterion that some psychologists use to define a basic emotion is that it should have associated aberrations or pathologies. Excessive fear, for example, generates panic or chronic anxiety. Likewise, too much interest results in repetitive, consuming and compulsive behaviour.

So how does interest fare in the emotions league? As naturally curious creatures, we experience it daily and devote a lot of time and brainpower to [16]things that interest us. That alone could make it a major emotional player. But the real power of interest, according to Silvia, lies in its ability to keep us engaged in our frenetic lives rather than becoming overwhelmed by information overload. That’s also a reason for trying to understand what stimulates interest. “We have to find ways of helping people learn, to keep them from becoming anxious and tuning out in the face of this monstrous amount of information,” he says.


The relationship-boosting emotion

Gratitude has a way to go before it satisfies the most stringent emotion criteria. The facial expression has yet to be identified, although it is easy to speculate what it might involve–a smile and a dip of the head, perhaps. Furthermore, studies have yet to be carried out in non-western cultures. This could be important, as expressions of gratitude may be culturally ingrained. Expectations of which situations will generate gratitude certainly are: waiters in the US will stand at your elbow until you tip, for example, whereas in Japan they will chase you down the street to return the extra cash you left on the table.

Like all emotions worth their salt, though, gratitude motivates us to act: it makes us want to acknowledge and repay a kindness or thoughtful gesture. So gratitude might simply ensure a quid pro quo repayment mechanism, but new research suggests there may be more to it than that.

[17]Sara Algoe of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has found that gratitude makes cohabiting couples feel more connected. She reasons that truly thoughtful gestures help us find the individuals who really “get us”. The grateful feeling is a signal that we should get to know them better as they are the ones likely to be there for us in the future. So, once you are in a romantic relationship, feelings of gratitude serve as a little reminder of how great your partner is. Long term, Algoe says, gratitude is there to help promote a positive cycle of give and take, creating an upward spiral of satisfaction in the relationship.

If Algoe is correct, gratitude has big potential benefits in the modern world. High-quality relationships are good for our health, notes her colleague [18]Barbara Fredrickson. She goes further in her book, [19]Positivity (Crown, 2009), suggesting that by cultivating gratitude we might increase social harmony in groups, fostering lower employee turnover, more volunteering in communities, perhaps even less crime, less littering and less wasting of resources.


The emotion with two faces

The conceited, arrogant feeling of pride has been called the deadliest of the seven deadly sins. Yet pride can also be noble. We all know the contented sense of achievement and self-worth that comes with having done well at something, whether it be achieving a promotion, building something, winning a race or figuring out a cryptic crossword clue. That’s why [20]Jessica Tracy at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, one of the few psychologists focused on pride, makes the distinction between what she calls “hubristic pride” and “authentic pride”.

Pride may manifest itself in two different ways, but we cannot tell these apart by their outward appearance, she says (Emotion, vol 7, p 789). Both types cause people to tilt their heads back, extend their arms from their body and try to look as large as possible. As Charles Darwin noted in his book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), a proud person looks “swollen or puffed up”. So there is a characteristic prideful look, but in contrast to the basic emotions, the face only plays a small role, with a slight smile creeping across it.

Pride also differs from the Big Six in being a “self-conscious”

emotion. Like shame, guilt and embarrassment, it requires a sense of self and the ability to self-evaluate. “In order to experience pride,” Tracy says, “I need to think about who I am, who I want to be and how the event that’s just happened reflects on me and my ambitions.” Nevertheless, she believes there is a strong case for thinking of pride as a basic emotion. Her research suggests that the physical expression of pride is recognised in pre-literate, isolated tribes (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol 94, p 516). She has even found it in people who were born blind, indicating that it is innate rather than learned (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol 105, p 11655).

So what is the point of pride, and why do we have two prides that feel different but look the same? In general, when people see pride expressed they associate it with high status. So pride motivates us to do well so that we gain respect. There are two distinct ways to do this, which perhaps explains the flip sides of pride.

[21]Status can take two forms, says anthropologist Joe Henrich, also at UBC. The first is based on dominance and commonly seen in non-human primates, whereby bigger and stronger individuals are revered because they could overwhelm or kill others. The human equivalents include the playground bully and officious boss. The second kind of status is prestige. In this case, respect and power is gained through knowledge or skill. “This fits in with the two kinds of pride,” says Tracy. “One is associated with aggression and overconfidence, while the other motivates achievement, hard work and altruistic behaviour.”


The time-for-change emotion

It’s a feeling we have all experienced, whether in a lecture theatre, an art gallery or wandering around an unfamiliar city, but confusion is tricky to describe. Dacher Keltner at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that it is the “feeling that the environment is giving insufficient or contradictory information”.

For some psychologists, the idea is scandalous. Others describe confusion as the fringiest of the fringe. Nevertheless, Silvia thinks there is a good case to be made for considering confusion as a basic emotion, not least because it is so easy to spot. The brow furrows, the eyes narrow, the lip might even get bitten–you know confusion when you see it. In fact, one study found it was the second most recognisable everyday expression, only surpassed by joy (Emotion, vol 3, p 68).

What, then, is confusion for? It’s a knowledge-based emotion, in the same “family” as interest and surprise, says Silvia. He believes it is our brain’s way of telling us that the way we are thinking about things is not working, that our mental model of the world is flawed or inadequate. Sometimes this will make us withdraw, but it can also motivate us to shift our attention or change our learning strategy, he says.

A related idea is that a confused facial expression alerts others to help the confused person. If so, confusion serves to bring new knowledge and encourage social relationships, making it, perhaps, the perfect 21st-century emotion.

I say boredom, you say ennui

Some emotional states only have names in particular languages. Here are some examples; let us know in the comments if you know of more.

Fiero (Italian): contented pride in achieving something just for oneself.

Amae (Japanese): the sweet feeling of being dependent on someone else.

Naches (Yiddish): the glow of proud pleasure that only a child can give to its parents.

Schadenfreude (German): the feeling you experience when you learn that your worst enemy has suffered some misfortune.

Ennui (French): the sophisticated, world-weary boredom most intensely felt by philosophers and intellectuals.

Jessica Griggs is a freelance writer based in London


8. http://www.newscientist.com/search?rbauthors=Jessica+Griggs

9. http://www.newscientist.com/issue/2743

10. http://www.newscientist.com/subscribe?promcode=nsarttop

11. http://www.newscientist.com/topic/brain

12. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20527432.900-uhoh-more-emotions-to-worry-about.html

13. http://people.virginia.edu/~jdh6n/

14. http://www.paulekman.com/

15. http://silvia.socialpsychology.org/

16. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19125612.200-the-word-infovore.html

17. http://www.unc.edu/peplab/sara_algoe.html

18. http://www.unc.edu/peplab/barb_fredrickson_page.html

19. http://www.positivityratio.com/

20. http://www.ubc-emotionlab.ca/jltracy/

21. http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn14514-triumph-displays-may-be-hardwired.html

22. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20527432.900-uhoh-more-emotions-to-worry-about.html

23. http://www.newscientist.com/issue/2743

NS 2743: Editorial: Uh-oh, more emotions to worry about http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20527432.900-uhoh-more-emotions-to-worry-about.html

THOSE of you who recoil when told you need to “share your feelings more” will be dismayed to hear that our emotional repertoire may extend beyond the six already known to be universally felt and recognised in our faces (see “The emotions you never knew you had”).

As if joy, sadness, anger, fear, surprise and disgust weren’t enough, the repressed now face the prospect of pride, confusion, elevation and more. No doubt the self-help industry will be quick to latch on to the fresh opportunities to torment those who prefer to gloat, boggle or feel uplifted in silence.