Where Logic Meets Love

Words, Happiness, and Faith

Sunday, July 24, 2011

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Words, Happiness, and Faith | Faith Permeating Life
[STOP! If you have not yet taken the Positive Feelings survey, please do so before reading this post:

The Positive Feelings Survey

I may update these results in a later post if I get more responses.]

A few months ago, I pondered the different words people use for positive emotions, such as happiness, joy, satisfaction, etc. I created a survey and, after receiving 51 responses, decided I had enough for some preliminary observations. This is not meant to be scientific by any means, just a way of asking questions and satisfying my curiosity.

The first thing I did was to create consistency among the answers by making them all (where possible) into nouns. So "happy" became "happiness," "satisfied" became "satisfaction," and so on, so that I could lump together all the people who said essentially the same thing.

The Less Interesting Findings
I didn't find any noticeable relationship between what people called an emotion and how much they felt it. Most people felt positive more often than not: On a scale of 0 to 5, the average rating was
  • 3.74 for the extent to which people felt a "generally positive emotion" about their life in general
  • 3.98 for the extent to which they had a "positive outlook about the future"
  • and 3.42 for the extent to which they tend to see "the positive side of something that's currently happening."
Also, on average, people experienced "something especially good" occurring (and the accompanying positive feeling) a few times a week, with answers ranging from a few times a day to a few times a year.

There was no apparent relationship between levels of positive emotions and faith in a higher power. Average faith in a higher power for the respondents was 3.5 on a 0 to 5 scale, which isn't that surprising since many respondents were readers of this blog or my friends and family, most of whom call themselves Christians. However, the Pew Center reports 71% of Americans are "absolutely certain" they believe in God, so it looks like my small sample was at least leaning in a direction representative of this country. (I don't know if all my respondents were from the U.S.)

The More Interesting Findings (I think)
I found there was no relationship between how often people experienced an event they felt especially good about and having a positive feeling about one's life in general or towards the future. However, there was a positive relationship (r=.407, p<.005) between having a positive feeling about one's life in general and having a positive feeling about the future, and also a positive relationship (r=.379, p<.005) between having a positive feeling about one's life in general and seeing the positive side of things that are currently happening. This seems to me to lend credibility to the idea that it's not what happens in your life but your attitude that most determines how happy you are. One of the things I found most interesting from the survey results was seeing which words people most often used to describe different types of positive emotions. You can see in the tables below how many different people used the same type of word to describe an emotion. I had also speculated that people who used certain words, such as calling an overall positive feeling about life "joy," were more likely to have faith in a higher power. That seemed to be the case, to a certain extent. See what you think. Note: Each of these tables contains only those words that were mentioned by more than one survey respondent. Some of the unique responses are listed after all the tables. (And sorry the tables are so ugly-looking; Blogger doesn't play nice with regular html tables so I had to use Google Docs.)









I'm interested in your thoughts on this, and I'll briefly share my own.

It seems like there is a relationship between faith in God and seeing life events as purposeful or planned. Thus you see reactions to good events with words such as "blessed" and "gratefulness," and "hope" and "faith" as descriptions of future outlooks, corresponding to higher levels of faith. On the other hand, words such as "satisfaction" for a general feeling toward life and "elation" and "excitement" for reactions to specific good incidents are related to lower levels of faith; this, to me, indicates much greater spikes in emotion when something good happens, as if it's a stroke of good luck in an otherwise hum-dum existence.

Also, people who described a generally positive feeling about their life as "joy" tended to have a higher faith in God, as I had guessed, whereas people who described the feeling associated with specific positive events as being "joy" had lower average faith than those who called those moments "happiness." That may be, in part, a result of people who read my original post before taking the survey (shame on you!).

Here were some of the more interesting unique responses:

What do you call the emotion you feel when something especially good occurs in your life?
  • "Suspicion"
  • "Surprise"
  • "Awesome"
  • "Magical"
"What do you call a generally positive emotion about your life in general?"
  • "Attitude"
  • "Love"
  • "Fulfillment"
What do you call the state of having a positive outlook about the future?
  • "Potentially dangerous"
  • "Wishing"
  • "Future-oriented"
What do you call seeing the positive side of something that's currently happening?
  • "The bright side"
  • "Cup half full"
  • "Resilience"
I'll state yet again that this is no scientific study and I'm not trying to make any sweeping generalizations with it. I just thought it might be interesting to do a kind of initial investigation into the language around positive emotions and how they relate to faith.

Does anything jump out at you as particularly interesting here?

2 comments:

  1. 1st I wanna share my own answers since I didn't participate when you first posted!

    What do you call the emotion you feel when something especially good occurs in your life?
    Bliss

    What do you call a generally positive emotion about your life in general?
    happiness

    What do you call seeing the positive side of something that's currently happening?
    Silver lining (crap I just realized that is two words..again the whole acting without thinking...lol told you I do that a lot!)

    What do you call the state of having a positive outlook about the future?
    optimistic

    Side note: I don't believe in a higher power. Of any kind.

    The interesting thing I saw was there was a person who seemed to be a little on the down side.

    ReplyDelete
  2. totally fascinating! I loved reading what words other people came up with; and that so many said the same ones (myself included). Very cool idea!

    ReplyDelete

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