Everyone experiences emotions. But the real question is do people experience emotions across cultures in the same way? This is a question that has long been prominent in cultural psychology research. As you may have guessed, when it comes to emotions #culturematters.
Though common emotions like happiness and sadness may seem innate and universal, noted psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett explains that we actively construct emotions, using the concepts we are familiar with–concepts that come from our culture–to make sense of the sensations we experience. Maybe you’ve heard of the German schadenfreude, meaning finding joy in another’s misfortune. Since this concept exists in German culture, a German person is able to construct an emotion based on it. Cultural context matters so much that facial expressions and the emoticons we use to imitate them in writing even differ among cultures. For example, an American might choose emoticons based on the expression of the mouth whereas a Japanese person might select based on the expression of the eyes.
So what’s the best way to deal with this across cultures? Enter: the idea of emotional granularity. This is the ability to differentiate between specific emotions highly tailored to each situation. And the more emotionally granular you are, the more advantages you will reap! Most notably, the ability to distinguish fine emotions reduces suffering and improves emotional wellbeing. For example, if you can distinguish between uneasiness, envy, and remorse rather than lumping them all under “sadness”, you have more options for predicting and perceiving your emotions, allowing you to respond accordingly. A simple way to improve your emotional granularity is by expanding your vocabulary of emotion words. (Hint: check out this emotion wheel.)
Luckily, there is no shortage of words for emotions. Want to see how many you know? Test your knowledge of emotions across cultures with the quiz below. Hopefully, it will help you feel hwyl! (That’s the Welsh word for a feeling of exuberance, full of joy and excitement.)