Emotions, Moods, Sentiments, Passions

Emotional feelings arise when a person-situation or person-interaction is relevant to one’s wellbeing. The person processes the encounter consciously or unconsciously, which produces a perception that attaches meaning to the experience, accompanied by physiological changes, cognitive processing, a subjective experience, a facial expression, postural and bodily adjustments, and possibly other reactions and action tendencies. Emotions are reactions to concrete situations, objects, or people and can generally be identified as distinctive patterns and textures. Emotions are states that last from seconds to minutes.

Moods are long-lasting, from hours to weeks or months, emotional experiences that are more defused than emotions and without apparent objective triggers. Moods are generally categorized two-dimensionally as positive or negative. Moods and emotions are interconnected: positive mood inclines the person toward positive emotions such as happiness, joy, or hope, and negative mood inclines the person toward negative emotions such as sadness, anger, fear, or disappointment. Conversely, positive emotions feed one’s positive mood, and negative emotions feed one’s negative mood.

It makes sense to savor one’s positive emotional experiences to fill the positive mood bucket so one can easier experience positive emotions that one can savor in the future.

What We Know About Positive Emotions

Positive emotions function as motivators to continue developing one’s skills and pursue one’s goals. As assessment processes, positive emotions signal the appropriateness of one’s present situation, its pleasantness, and its relation to one’s goals. Behaviorally, they endorse or facilitate an approach motivation. As an adaptive behavioral guidance system, positive emotions arise as an answer to environmental opportunities.

In short, positive emotions guide our decisions and actions, opening our minds when planning for goals and foreseeing obstacles, engaging our creativity to solve problems and find solutions, building and nurturing our resilience and flexibility, enhancing our relationships with valued others, strengthening our self-regulation capacity, and guiding cooperative group behaviors.

As a general assertion, positive emotions impact and support our lifelong learning and development. They are not opposite to negative emotions but separate from yet related to them. Some positive emotions can serve as antidotes to specific negative emotions. Nevertheless, both kinds of emotions can be experienced simultaneously. For example, one can experience sadness and grief for losing a loved one and gratitude and joy for the loving relationship that one shared. One can be relieved and content to end a partnership yet disappointed that a promising opportunity was attended to neglectfully.

Positive emotions are expressed non-verbally in facial expressions, voice tone and speech patterns, posture, gesture, and movement. They surely impact breathing and physiology and affect autonomous nervous system functioning.

Various Positive Emotions

Here is a short list of positive emotion candidates: Happiness, joy, contentment, pride, love, interest, compassion, gratitude, awe, hope and optimism. You can add to the list as you go.


We use happiness in daily language to mean several different experiences. I assert to be happy when I am satisfied with a situation or outcome of an effort. More generally, I am happy when I am satisfied with my life up to this point and also see good prospects ahead. If I did not see good prospects, I doubt I would feel happy now since I would worry about the future, which is another ingredient of my happiness; the relative absence of undesirable feelings about the past, present, or future. So my satisfaction indicates that I am experiencing some mild, positive feelings that I welcome.

Positive psychology researchers differentiate hedonic and eudaemonic happiness as two distinct but somewhat overlapping and complementary pathways to happiness that one could choose to follow.

Happiness is then used to mean subjective wellbeing, defined as life satisfaction, the experience of positive emotions, and the relative absence of negative emotions. Higher life satisfaction and frequent positive emotions while rarely experiencing negative emotions increase one’s subjective wellbeing or happiness. So we are adding apples, oranges, and bananas; how can we do that? This is, for sure, a subjective process that we don’t have conscious access to, weighing and measuring the ten thousand moments in each one of the ten thousand days of our lives and then giving us a single judgment, “I feel happy, I feel wonderful,” or someone else maybe not so much.

When considering happiness or subjective wellbeing together with eudaemonia, the pursuit of meaningful goals and living with engagement, purpose, and meaning, we get a more comprehensive description of wellbeing, sometimes called psychological wellbeing.

Assuming that happiness is a universally valued goal and the birthright of each and every human being, what then brings about happiness? What are the individual differences that foster or hinder happiness? What has culture to do with happiness? What kind of institutions, customs, rituals, or governance structures, law and order, affluence, equity rules and practices are to bring the most happiness?

What is the price of injustice and the inequitable social life that civilization proudly upholds?

What does satisfy you? How do you know that what you think does or will satisfy you actually does? What are the strings attached or the suffering you externalize to others?

What increases your positive emotions?

What reduces your negative emotions?

These questions assume you can discern wholesome and unwholesome choices. Prudence should lead to wisdom, hopefully. When in doubt, return to basic principles, and above all, do no harm.

Joy, Exuberance, Buoyancy, Ecstasy, Rupture, Bliss, Pleasure, Entertaining, Jolly, Cheerful

My joy makes me dance and sing, even if only inwardly and in my tingling chest and throat. I want to expand and let my creativity flow. I want to play. What has brought me this energizing joy? Did I do it?

When I feel safe and connected, joy arises.

When I notice progress toward set goals and I am achieving something, I feel accomplished, and joy arises.

When joy arises, I want to play. When I play, joy arises.

When I wake up in the morning, joy arises. When I look up and look out, joy arises. When I look down and look in, joy arises.

Joy arises. And it feels good; I like it.

Contentment, Satisfaction, Peacefulness, Serenity, Calm, Feeling Complete and Full

A state of pleasant but low arousal that contains a multitude of endless forces within a balance of inner calm and peace, even if only temporary, is satisfaction and contentment. Mostly it is accompanied by feeling safe and protected in an orderly situation that requires little or no effort. Change is not imminent. If desire is present, it is mainly about holding and savoring what is already achieved.

Contentment seems to be mild joy, maybe the fading remnant of joy, its trickling down into the inner spaces where vitality and vigor are being sourced.

Depending on the life stage, content will morph into other emotions. Either novelty seeking will introduce excitement, or naturally changing situations will arouse clinging to contentment.

Interest, Curiosity

Interest is an expression of internal or intrinsic motivation. It produces a desire to explore novel experiences that are somewhat uncertain and challenging while being within one’s risk tolerance and safety zone. It is also the capability to cope with such experiences.

Interest creates the possibility of positive change and renewal. It is also an adaptive response to changing situations and periods requiring attention and effort.

Curiosity, interest, and openness to new ideas, actions, and experiences are drivers for learning and growth, expanding one’s capacities and enriching life. Flow is a possible outcome of activities originating from interest.

Awe, Wonder, Inspiration, Elation, Reverance

Awe is linked to the appreciation of beauty and excellence. It is also a capturing force when we encounter extraordinary phenomena or natural sights that take us out of our everyday consciousness.

Reverence is an elevating emotion grounded in our loyalty to an ideal, a person, a group, or some ritual process. It creates a feeling of admiration while also connecting us to something greater than our individuality, thus deepening our belonging.

Awe, reverence, and the like inspire us to become all we can be, growing into our potentials.