Emotional experience is much richer than we thought

How many different human emotions are there? Psychology once assumed that most of our feelings fall within the categories of happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust. But a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that there are at least 27 different but interlocking emotions.
For the study, the researchers—including GGSC faculty director Dacher Keltner—asked more than 850 participants to watch over 2,000 video clips. The five-second clips included births and proposals, deaths and natural disasters, silly slips and risky stunts, spiders and wondrous nature, sexual acts and awkward handshakes.
In response to the clips, participants either wrote freely about the emotions they felt, rated how much they felt 34 different feelings, or rated their feelings along different dimensions used in emotion research (like positive vs. negative, or high-energy vs. low-energy). 
Overall, participants showed very similar emotional responses to the videos. This allowed the researchers (using novel statistical methods) to identify 27 categories of emotion, such as anxiety, entrancement, and nostalgia. These categories weren’t sharply distinct but showed smooth gradients between them—from anxiety to fear to horror to disgust, for example, and from adoration to amusement to awkwardness (view a map here).
“Emotional experiences are so much richer and more nuanced than previously thought,” says lead author Alan Cowen.
It’s no exaggeration to say that these findings have the potential to change how psychologists think about human emotional experience—not as a small number of discrete feelings, but as a rich spectrum.
But why would humans have so many different emotions? This research dovetails with the emerging notion that a happy and meaningful life is not just about feeling good. In fact, experiencing a greater variety of emotions—even mixed emotions—may be key to our health and well-being
Rather than pressuring ourselves to feel positive all the time, we can embrace the vivid rainbow of emotionality that we’re all endowed with.