Moods and Emotions: What’s The Difference?
When we are trying to deal with the world of emotion, we can often forget or be confused about the differences between moods and emotions. Knowing what are moods and what are emotions, and getting clear on the differences may help us understand ourselves, and understand others better.
What are moods? Moods stay for a while
In general, the differences are fairly straightforward. Paul Ekman in his accessible book ‘Emotions Revealed’, says that moods are generally emotional feelings. They can last for an extended period of time, say at least one or two days. When we have these moody periods, they often feel like stages that we are going through and they are hard to shift. They often seem like they are brought on by circumstances; pressure at work, pressure at home, money trouble.
Emotions come and go quickly
In contrast, emotions are things that tend to come and go quite quickly. We can think of these emotions as being positive or negative (although the idea of negative emotions is a myth). They're also much more likely to be caused by immediate circumstances; something that someone just said, something that you witnessed or some memories that you had. Emotions are likely to be sharper than moods, and also more varied; whilst we can have a great range of exquisitely different emotions, we tend to have moods which are more generalised — a good mood, a bad mood. Small things we experience can change our emotions quickly, and we can experience more than one emotion at once, and these can reflect different parts of us.
Affects – what we actually feel
The third part of the equation here is affect. Affect is the physical sensations you have when you have emotions. These are the butterflies in the stomach that we experience with anxiety, the muscular tension that anger can bring, or the ache in the heart we have with grief. These affects can be the thing we notice about emotions, and the thing that we can find most distressing about them. I've written more about affect before.
Moods and emotions
We can experience emotions at the same time as moods, but they seem to ‘sit on top’ of moods. For instance, whilst in a bad mood is quite possible to have brief feelings of happiness and joy. Similarly, when a good mood, it is still possible to feel sad or angry feelings. However, it is much more likely that your mood will influence the emotion you feel. If this happens, the emotion may have the same flavour as the mood. In this way, our emotions are susceptible to the mood we are in, and this also make us more likely to interpret our environment in particular ways and distort our thinking. When we are in a bad mood, it is much easier to misinterpret things in the light of this bad mood.
Understanding what are moods and what are emotions – and their differences – takes time and practice. When you do, you can sometimes see that the anger and frustration you are feeling isn’t caused by the people around you but by a mood you have been feeling before you walked in the door and that they shouldn't be blamed. I've written before on what you can do when you're in a bad mood.
Let me know what you think in the comments. If you thought this was interesting, I have a written a similar post called Thinking About The Past.
– Tim Hill
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