Enjoyable emotions

Sixteen Enjoyable Emotions

All happiness emotions are enjoyable but not in the same way.

enjoyable emotions

What does one mean by saying an emotion is either positive or negative? When we use the term negative we don’t know which emotion is being referred to. Is it fear, anger, disgust, or is it the implication that it doesn’t really matter? If we lump them together we cannot discover if it does matter, if each might have a different profile, a different signal, different social context, different physiology, etc. And each of these so-called negative emotions can have a very positive function, for example, mobilizing us to get out of harm’s way. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for people to enjoy some of these “negative” emotions; there are some who read tearjerkers, others who go to scary movies, and even some who seek non vicarious experiences of these misnamed negative emotions.

Here I suggest that we consider the possibility that there may be as many as 16 different enjoyable emotions, each as different from one another as anger is from fear. There isn’t much evidence to support these distinctions, but there won’t be if we continue to lump them together with the gloss of happiness emotions. Given the space limitations I can do little more than name them, but in my book Emotions Revealed, I elaborate on them more.


 The 16 Enjoyable, Wonderful Emotions We Can Experience

The first five are the sensory pleasures derived from taste, smell, touch, sight and hearing. Fredrickson and Branigan (2001) argued that they shouldn’t be considered emotions because they don’t require appraisal. But does the pleasure felt witnessing a sunset involve less appraisal than the fear felt when a chair collapses? Much of what provides sensory pleasure does involve appraisal, often quite extended appraisal.

One of the simplest enjoyable emotions is amusement. Most of us like to be amused by something that we find funny; some of us are very amusing, with jokes effortlessly flowing forth. 

When everything seems right in the world, when there is nothing we feel we need to do, we experience contentment or, in the vernacular, we are laid-back, for those moments. 

Excitement, on the other hand, arises in response to novelty and challenge. Tomkins (1962) considered excitement the high end of interest, as did Izard (1971) after him. However, I propose excitement has its own unique flavor, quite apart from interest (although it seems unlikely that one can be excited by something uninteresting). 

Relief is the enjoyable emotion felt when something that had strongly aroused our emotion subsides. Unlike most other emotions, relief requires that there has been a preceding non-enjoyable emotion, typically fear.

Wonder is a rare emotion in which one feels overwhelmed by something incomprehensible. I think it is important to distinguish wonder from fear, although the two can merge when we find it hard to grasp what is threatening to us. I don’t use the term awe, as the OED tells us that it combines wonder, fear and dread.

Ecstasy or bliss is a state of self-transcendent rapture, achieved by some through meditation, by others through experiences in nature, and by still others through a sexual experience with a truly loved one.

The Italian word fiero denotes pride and achievement. There need not be any contest; triumph is the English word for such feelings when there is a contest with others. Fiero is a very important emotion motivating ambition and achievement.

Naches is the Yiddish word that refers to the pride a parent (or mentor) feels about the accomplishment of offspring. Naches ensures parental investment in facilitating the growth and achievements of children.

Schadenfreude is the German word for the enjoyable feeling experienced when one learns that one’s enemy has suffered. Unlike the other enjoyable emotions, this one is disapproved of in some cultures. Often, we are not “supposed to” gloat over our successes nor enjoy the misfortunes of our rivals.

Haidt (2000) suggests the term elevation for the enjoyable emotion felt when one witnesses unexpected acts of human goodness, kindness or compassion. It may motivate us to engage in such acts ourselves.

In one of his last papers Richard Lazarus (and his wife Bernice) wrote about gratitude as “appreciation for an altruistic act that provides benefit” (2001). When someone does something nice for us, that doesn’t benefit him or her, we feel gratitude. It is an emotion that has very strong physiological sensations and can combat feelings of stress and anxiety.


Signals for Happy Emotions

I am fairly convinced that the face does not provide distinctive signals for each of these enjoyable emotions. Some version of what I have termed the Duchenne smile (1990) is seen in all of them although the temporal dynamics and intensity of the smiling may vary. Instead, I have proposed (1992) that it is the voice that provides the distinctive signal for each of them. Think for a moment of the sound of relief versus the sound of amusement. Scott and Calder have to date identified a different vocal signal for the four enjoyable emotions they studied. I believe more will be found.


The Role of Enjoyment and the Future of Emotions Research

These enjoyable emotions motivate our lives; they cause us to do things that by and large are good for us. They encourage us to engage in activity that is necessary for the survival of our species, including reproduction and facilitating the growth of children. Along with Tomkins (1962), I believe the pursuit of enjoyment is a primary motivation in our lives. But which enjoyable emotion do we most pursue? Each of us can experience all of these emotions, but most of us are specialists, craving some more than others. People organize their lives to maximize the experience of some of these enjoyments.

Are there really 16 enjoyable emotions? Only research that examines when they occur, how they are signaled, and what occurs internally, can answer that question. For now I believe that we should investigate every one of them. If we are using a memory task we should not ask someone to remember a happy experience, but should specify which of these happy experiences we want them to retrieve. If we are trying to identify the signal, vocal, facial or postural, we should no longer ask people to pose happiness, but instead ask the person to pose amusement, or relief, etc. It is only by making such distinctions that we will discover how many need to be made.

Paul Ekman is a well-known psychologist and co-discoverer of micro expressions. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine in 2009. He has worked with many government agencies, domestic and abroad. Dr. Ekman has compiled over 50 years of his research to create comprehensive training tools to read the hidden emotions of those around you.

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