Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Nine Desirable Emotional States

I generally subscribe to the notion that the foundation of consumer behavior is rather simple: people are motivated to avoid unhappiness or achieve happiness.   For now, I want to focus on the latter, as it tends to be more difficult to define.  

Even the term “happiness” is vague because it encompasses a broad range of more specific emotional states.   I’ve looked to a handful of sources that describe pleasant, desirable, or positive emotions and compiled the following list:


The term “contentment” is a bit problematic because it is considered to be a neutral emotional state – a sort of blank canvas that describes a person who is not distracted by emotions at the moment.    Tranquility is more of an active state, a sense of satisfaction that arises from the realization that one’s present situation and condition is acceptable.  It is not merely being content on an unconscious level, but being aware of one’s own contentment and the feeling of relaxation and serenity that result of being pleased with one’s condition.

Joy, bliss, and ecstasy are also described as emotional states that arise from a sense of well-being.   I do not see a significant difference – they are merely a more intense experience of the core emption of tranquility.

Belonging is a sense of well-being that arises from relationships with other people (family, friends, peers, etc.).  While some sources classify it as a different emotion, it is a subset of tranquility because it pertains to satisfaction with a situation.


Confidence is a positive feeling that comes from the power to achieve something, even if the action to achieve it is not being undertaken at the moment.  The feeling arises from having the capabilities or resources to avoid or mitigate negative outcomes or to achieve positive ones.

It is arguable whether pride is a subset of confidence or of relief.  Where pride is derived from a sense of capability before taking action, it is a subset of confidence.  Where pride is derived from achieving an outcome in spite of doubt, it is a subset of belief.


Excitement is an emotion that arises in the course of a challenge in which a person is mostly confident that they will have the ability to succeed.   While some argue that the emotional intensity of excitement is a form of fear, it is not a negative emotion when the individual feels that a positive outcome will be achieved, even if there is some degree of doubt.    And the doubt is necessary for excitement to be experienced: if one is completely certain of the outcome, there is no feeling of excitement.

Hope is merely another form of excitement that focuses on the desire to achieve a positive outcome, even when the obstacles or challenges are not clearly understood.


Relief is the immediate emotional consequence of achieving a positive outcome in spite of doubt.    This outcome may be a positive accomplishment, but is more often merely the avoidance or mitigation of damage: one feels relief when a threat has passed and the negative consequences that were expected have not occurred.   It’s noted that “thrill seekers” often put themselves in danger in order to experience the relief that occurs when the dangerous event has ended.

Some sources describe achievement and validation as being different emotional states related to success at a goal, but I disagree: these are also forms of relief, occurring when the degree of doubt was relatively low.  There is no emotional reaction to the completion of a task in which the actor had complete confidence and the outcome had been expected.


Satisfaction occurs when the results of an action were “right” according to a person’s moral standards.   Similar to relief, the emotion occurs only when there was a sense of doubt that the right outcome would occur – but it is distinct from relief in that the functional outcome may have been negative, but it agrees with a person’s moral beliefs.

Satisfaction may occur when good things happen to good people, but it also occurs when bad things happen to bad people.   The concepts of “poetic justice” and “schadenfreude”  describe incidents in which a person suffered harm, but the harm was deserved as a consequence of their actions or their moral character.


Amusement is the emotion that surround a positive or benign discovery.   It is a sense of satisfaction that is achieved by making sense of something that seemed confusing.  The “funny” quality of humor arises from the discovery that is made when untangling the riddle of a joke.   Amusement tends to be a short-lived state that fades quickly. 

Though amusement may be re-experienced through memory, remembering something amusing is not the same experience as being amused, but it is not experienced twice from the same stimulus (the joke is not funny a second time), unless perhaps the original solution has been forgotten.


Gratitude is a feeling of thankfulness experienced in response to another person who has done something needful for the benefit of another person, though it may also be effected by the mere promise or statement of intent to do something needful.   Gratitude is also felt when there is not a specific benefactor, though a person who benefits from circumstance may invent or personify an imaginary benefactor.

Where the benefit granted is protection against harm, gratitude is blended with relief.   The feeling we have toward the benefactor, however, is distinct from the feeling of relief at having escaped harm, though the two are experienced simultaneously.


Admiration is a sense of affiliation we feel to a specific individual.  This may occur in the context of a social relationship, but it may also occur independent of one, which makes it a separate emotion (from tranqulity).

Friendship, love, and other forms of attachment are subsets of admiration.

Arguably, there are positive emotions that occur when we are the subject of admiration, but these are more in the nature of gratitude.


Wonder is an emotion that occurs when an experience defies comprehension but seems to pose no threat.  It is most often described in context of the perception of something on a grand scale (often natural phenomena).   Wonder may also be fascination with a form of technical excellence (watching someone do something well)

The feelings of awe and surprise are sometimes listed separately, but sometimes as a subset of wonder.   However, “awe” is more closely related to fear and is not always a pleasant emotion and “surprise” can include an unpleasant rahter than pleasant sensation.

Note: Vicarious Emotional States

Some sources draw a distinction between an emotion that is experienced personally versus an emotion that is experienced vicariously – but it seems to me that the feeling that is aroused when a person’s sympathy is with another person is essentially the same as the feeling that is aroused when the same situation involves them personally.   That is, the relief a person feels watching someone else escape danger is the same emotion they would feel if they had been the one who had escaped danger.   So there is no need for a duplicate of every term for vicarious emotions.

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