Emotions in the Body

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands, your chest, your face, your knees and your toes. According to a recent study, emotions are felt physically:

We propose that consciously felt emotions are associated with culturally universal, topographically distinct bodily sensations that may support the categorical experience of different emotions.1

In the study, happiness was found to be a full-body, warm, active experience, whereas depression was characterized by a notable inactivity in the heart and gut areas, with decreased inner sensation in the limbs.


The body maps show regions whose activation increased (warm colors) or decreased (cool colors) when feeling each emotion.

How are you feeling today—right now? Can you feel your emotion in your body? Try using your hands to sense where in your body your emotion feels alive. How does your posture feel? What expression are the muscles in your face forming?

If you are feeling emotion that is overwhelming or agitating, it can help to notice the sensations arising in your body. Noticing brings an observer’s perspective, which can be calming.

And if you are feeling emotion that is so delightful you can hardly contain yourself,2 embodying it fully is a fulfilling way of appreciating the moment.


  1. Bodily maps of emotions. Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, Jari K. Hietanen. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 January 14; 111(2): 646–651. Published online 2013 December 30. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1321664111 

  2. Take a moment to contemplate what it physically feels like to hardly be able to contain yourself. 

 

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