Joy And Other Circumscribed Positive Emotions

Joy may be conceptualised as the emotional state related to an appraisal that a valued goal has been achieved, or that movement towards such an achievement has occurred. So, for example, somebody might feel joy when she is able to go and book her summer holiday. Such an analysis of joy clearly distinguishes it from what we shall call happiness. Joy is very much an emotional reaction to a specific goal in a specific domain, whereas happiness, it seems, casts its appraisal net much wider. It is perfectly feasible for an individual to experience joy with respect to a specific goal while not being generally happy when all goals in all domains are considered together (cf. Fredrickson, 2005); similarly, it seems possible for an individual to be happy in general while also feeling some fear, anger, or sadness as a result of appraisals concerning specific goals in specific domains.

However, the conceptualisation of joy as merely an emotional response to the achievement of a valued goal is an insufficient analysis. The same set of constraints could be used to talk about quiet satisfaction or exhilaration or ecstasy; it seems that there is something about the type of goal and the individual's expectations of fulfilling that goal that are important in defining the emotional state the individual will experience once the goal has been achieved. Having acknowledged this issue, it is less clear what it is about such goals that serves to define an emotion as ecstasy or joy or quiet satisfaction; perhaps the more invested an individual is in a particular goal then the stronger the feeling of positive emotion when that goal is achieved (cf. Champion & Power, 1995). Alternatively, perhaps the less expected such an achievement is, the stronger the feeling of positive emotion when that achievement does come about.

The circumscribed positive emotion of joy is very much the antithesis of the negative emotions, although it can contribute to the experience of emotional conflict. As we noted in Chapter 2, Descartes recounts the tale of the man who, while being sad at his wife's death, was also unable to contain his joy at his new-found freedom. Such conflict between feelings of joy at the achievement of goals that we may feel uncomfortable with and negative emotions to those goals is frequently the subject of therapeutic work. Much of this conflict not only incorporates our own goals but also those of others such as in the experience of schadenfreude, which is almost the opposite of envy (see Chapter 8), and which involves joy at another's misfortune and can often prove distressing. Whether it involves being secretly pleased that our friend did not succeed in getting a distinction in her exams or feeling a surge of exhilaration when someone's perfect relationship breaks down, feelings of schadenfreude can disturb us because they reveal wants, needs, and goals that we perhaps did not realise we had, and that feel uncomfortable and incongruent with our idealised models of self.

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Letting Go, Moving On

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