16 Types of Happiness

Somewhere while bumbling around as a teenager, I started formulating a sort of philosophy of pleasure, separating amusement and enjoyment into different categories.  A couple decades later, I found that my categorization was a bit sparse.

Paul Ekman, a psychologist best known for being the inspiration for the TV show, Lie to Me, has studied emotion from various different angles, but mostly from the standpoint of the manner in which facial expressions capture or influence it.  One of the more curious things that came up was that positive emotions all seem to manifest the same or highly similar basic expressions, but there seem to be numerous ways of eliciting that expression.  16 ways, in fact.

While excusing himself for not being the expert in the area and that further research is warranted, he isolates as separate positive emotions:

  • The 5 sensory pleasures
  • Amusement
  • Excitement
  • Relief
  • Wonder
  • Fiero (English doesn’t have a word for it, but it’s akin to triumph and satisfaction over accomplishment)
  • Naches (something like pride in your offspring)
  • Elation
  • Gratitude
  • Schadenfreude (pleasure at another’s misfortune)
  • Ecstasy

The thing that I get to wondering about this list is if some of these emotions are more to be desired than others.  Are some of these more in accordance to God’s design of our nature?  Are some of them to be desired in greater measure or according to particular circumstances?  Is there a balance that is supposed to be had?  My inclination is to say yes to all of these, but crafting specifics is a little tricky.

Scripture doesn’t tend to break down positive emotions this way.  It talks about pleasure and satisfaction and joy, possibly some others I’m not immediately thinking of, but these are different from Ekman’s listing.  However, the way that it talks about them tends to elevate joy to the highest place and, rather than disparaging pleasure, placing it within particular boundaries (see Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in particular).  God seems to have an idea of positive emotions that include better and worse kinds as well as particular nuances of appropriateness and boundaries.

One way or another, we probably value certain varieties of happiness over others, perhaps without realizing or evaluating those values.  The culture certainly does.  Contemporary culture overall seems to value excitement over gratitude and sensory pleasure over contentment.  Perhaps a worthwhile exercise might be to pray over what one’s own values and boundaries are, intentional or not.  That might require some humility as it’s easy to say that you prefer, say, joy to amusement, but does it actually play out that way as you go about life?  What’s really going on in your heart, and what does God desire?  Some interesting directions to explore with Him in prayer and reflection…

God, what is in my heart?  What kinds of pleasure or happiness do I seem to instinctively seek out?  And what kinds of things do You want for me in this phase of my life and overall?  Help me not to jump too quickly to answers for either question, but remind me to give space for Your Spirit to reveal the truth to me.  I want to be willing to hear, both the good and the bad, and to trust that You are ultimately leading me towards what is most positive and fitting for Your design for the world and the human person.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s