Which emotions do you value the most?

By Alice Boyes, PhD. | Uncategorized

The following are four questions I find useful for understanding people’s behaviour and emotional motivations.

Answering them will help you better understand your own motivation and behaviour. I also recommend asking your significant other to answer the questions about themselves. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of each other and differences in emotional motivation between you and them. Deepening your understanding of each other can enhance your relationship closeness, and potentially help you understand sources of conflict.

Emotional Motivation Questions

1. Which positive emotions do you value experiencing the most? Which do you most actively seek to experience?

Choose 3-4 from this list.

joy, serenity (including calm/relaxation), excitement, pride, inspiration, awe, gratitude, interest, amusement, hope, and love.

2. Which negative emotions are the most important to you to avoid? Which do you most actively seek to avoid experiencing?

Choose 3-4 from this list.

sadness, anger, anxiety, loneliness, embarrassment, shame, guilt, jealousy/envy, disgust, contempt, regret, frustration (frustration = usually a combination of anger and anxiety).

3. Which 2-3 positive emotions are least important to you to experience?

joy, serenity (including calm/relaxation), excitement, pride, inspiration, awe, gratitude, interest, amusement, hope, and love.

4. Which 2-3 negative emotions are least important to you to avoid?

sadness, anger, anxiety, loneliness, embarrassment, shame, guilt, jealousy/envy, regret, frustration (frustration = usually a combination of anger and anxiety), boredom.

Once you have your answers, think about how your emotional motivations affect your behaviour – how they affect what you want for yourself.

For example:

Someone who is high on seeking excitement and avoiding boredom, and low on avoiding anxiety, is likely to seek high intensity emotional experiences and enjoy life most when their life includes new experiences and challenges.

Someone who is very uncomfortable with feeling anxiety may stick to routines and not step outside their comfort zone much. They might not like discussing change or the future if they feel uncertain about it.

Someone who places a high value on avoiding anger in themselves and others is likely to be very agreeable and avoid conflict.

Someone who is very uncomfortable with sadness might avoid conversations and media about things like illness, natural disasters, poverty, or war. They might emotionally shut off to these topics because they find them overwhelming.

Can you look at sources of conflict in your relationship as differences in emotional motivation?

For example, when one person you needs more novelty than the other? When one of you needs more serenity and calm (or you and your partner differ in what you find calming)? When one of you likes change and the other likes stability? When one of you likes to take on new challenges, even at the risk of these being anxiety provoking?

Positive Emotions You Value Least

The positive emotions you value least highly might be things that just don’t float your boat as much as other positive emotions, or they might represent opportunities to experience gains in positivity from a little self experimentation.

For example, if you don’t spend a lot of time focusing on “awe” you might think about what activities you could do to give yourself an opportunity to experience awe. A personal example – something I’ve started doing recently is driving up to some local hills for evening walks with my SO. What I like about this is the awe inducing nighttime views over the city, and lots of sparkly city lights. I find that taking in an expansive view is good for perspective taking and open/creative thinking, which is exactly what would be predicted by positive psychology theory.

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