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3 Ways Moods and Emotions Are Different

Understanding what distinguishes these two aspects of inner life can help us cultivate healthy, positive habits.

Moods and emotions

How many times have you heard someone say—or said yourself—“I’m in such a mood.” The phrase is a simple, if vague, statement that something is going on inside. But are you clear on what exactly we mean by “mood?”

Understanding the difference between moods and emotions can help us describe our inner lives more accurately—and accuracy is a key step in cultivating a healthy, positive path through daily life

Difference #1: Moods Last Longer Than Emotions
A mood is an ongoing phenomenon we experience over time—from a number of hours to a few days—whereas emotions are fleeting feelings that emerge, run their course and flow out of our consciousness as the brain chemicals that fueled them fade. Moods can sustain themselves for a long time if your habits align with what nurtures them. Healthy foods, good sleep hygiene and adequate exercise all support positive moods; challenges in any of these areas can allow negative ones to take hold.

Difference #2: Moods and Emotions Look Different
Moods are harder than emotions to express. A sad mood might show up to outside observers through behaviors, words or physical affect. But it also might not be evident to others, because moods can hover over—or under—the daily activities of our inner life. Emotions are different. Being more specific than moods, we can more easily find words—disgust, excitement, regret, envy and hope, for example—to share our emotions with ourselves and those around us. 

Difference #3: Moods and Emotions Have Different Causes
Emotions almost always can be traced to a specific cause, usually a situation that triggered an emotional reaction. Spending the morning with a very funny friend might cause you to feel jubilant, giddy or happy, whereas getting raked over the coals at work might leave you feeling vulnerable, anxious or frustrated. These are emotions, and we can point to what caused them. Moods, by contrast, don’t have clear points of origin. We might be in a sad mood but feel unsure where it came from. Or a calm mood might be our good fortune even during periods of stress.

Spend some time today noticing your emotional life. How would you describe your general mood? What emotions drive your actions and dominate your thoughts today? Understanding the difference between the two can help you encourage yourself in a positive, healthy direction.

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