Someone once said to me that moods are the seasons and emotions are the weather. You can have a sunny day in winter, but it’s still winter. And it’s important to know the difference, because everyone has bad days, but if overall your mood is low, that may require some more attention and help.
Some people see the words mood and emotion as interchangeable. If you respond negatively to an event, people may say that you are in a “bad mood”, if you are chirpier than usual, you may reflect that you are in a good mood. So, are moods and emotions the same? And why does it matter either way?
Moods and emotion are indeed different emotional states, with different characteristics:
1. Moods are less specific than emotions. Emotions, on the other hand are object orientated.
It means that they don’t occur in a vacuum but are triggered by specific situations or stimuli: you may get angry at someone for their inconsiderate driving for example, and you can trace the cause of the resulting emotions. Expressing your feelings – with a few choice words – is also unlikely to cause you any difficulty!
Sometimes, we just wake up in the morning feeling on top of the world or down the drains. We can’t explain why, or what has caused it, but this will form the background to our day and color anything that happens to us. The origin of our moods being so undetermined, it is also usually difficult to express them to ourselves and others.
2. Emotions are more intense than moods
Happiness, frustration, or any other emotions are also felt more intensely than moods, perhaps because they are “channeled”, as it were, towards an event or person. Moods are more nebulous and therefore less extreme. However they can be as harmful because they can’t be pin-pointed to a specific cause and can be trickier to analyze and overcome.
3. Moods last longer than emotions
Although emotions are stronger than moods, they are usually felt for a shorter period of time. Emotions being connected to an object, the feelings associated with it go away once it has been removed. For example, if you are being frightened by an unknown dog barking at you aggressively, the fear will disappear once the dog has been contained.
Even when emotions linger for a while, it doesn’t make them moods: you may still be shaking hours afterwards the above encounter, and you may come to develop a fear of all dogs, but the fact that the feeling has a specific cause makes it an emotion and not a mood.
Moods, on the other hands, can accompany you for days without needing to be fed by anything. If it is a positive mood, it is simply fantastic to be walking on air. If it is a negative mood, you may feel that you are followed by your own personal black cloud raining and thundering over your head, with no end in sight.
Can moods and emotions coexist?
Moods and emotions can overlap and affect each other, for better or worse, and how the dynamic will work depends largely on the individual and the emotions they are exposed to.
Being in a good mood can reduce the effect of a negative situation and change its perception quite dramatically; likewise, bad moods can make you feel worse about an unpleasant event, or make you unable to really rejoice when something good happens to you.
Emotions can also affect moods, but it is usually temporary. Good news may lift your spirits for a while, but you will often revert to your “base line” once its effects have worn off for example.
Why is it important to understand the difference between moods and emotions?
Moods tend to act like filters and interpret the world for us. When you are in a bad mood, you are therefore more likely to place situations and intentions in a negative light, which can lead to misinterpretations and unnecessary conflicts. Understanding that your anger at someone is caused by a pre-existing mood rather than their actions allows you to deal with a situation in a way fairer to yourself and others, and can save you a lot of emotional energy and upset, not to mention that it will foster better interpersonal relationships in all areas of your life.
Likewise, being able to differentiate moods and emotions will also help you not to make wrong compromises: you may be in a good mood, but it isn’t a reason to accept a situation that isn’t right for you.
As moods and emotions can affect each other, it can be difficult to separate them at times, but it is possible with time and practice, and it will improve your resilience to social anxiety.
What’s your mood like today?