When someone asks you how you’re doing, do you tend to give a general response like “I’m doing well, thanks” or “Not so good, actually”? Or do you give a more specific response such as, “I’m feeling really proud of myself because I finally finished a project at work” or “I’m a little embarrassed actually; I just had an awkward encounter.”

Of course, it probably depends on the context, but if you tend to identify and feel a wide range of specific emotions, you might have a high level of “emodiversity.”

Emodiversity (dibs on the band name!) is “the variety and relative abundance of the emotions” one can experience. There can be emodiversity within positive emotions—feeling not just “happy,” but also the more specific emotions of amusement, awe, contentment, joy, gratitude, and love. And, as you’d expect, there can be emodiversity within negative feelings—that is, feeling not just “sad,” but specifically feeling anger, embarrassment, fear, disgust, guilt, or anxiety.

The ability to recognize and name these different emotions is called “emotional granularity”. That ability, combined with the evenness of the distribution of feelings, makes up emodiversity.

According to this report highlighting the results of two studies measuring the effect of emodiversity on mental and physical health, higher levels of emodiversity correspond to lower levels of depression and fewer trips to the doctor. 

This might be a bit counterintuitive. For a long time, people thought that well-being was having lots of positive emotions and few negative emotions. But these recent studies, along with several others, are showing that perhaps a mix of emotions, positive and negative, is the best path toward well-being. Study participants high in emodiversity were less likely to be depressed than people high in positive emotion alone.

I tend to be pretty skeptical of studies like these that depend on the self-reporting of their subjects, but you can read the methodology and judge for yourself. The study results do reinforce my own belief that naming specific negative emotions can help to resolve them. And my takeaway from the studies is to try to specifically name positive emotions as well, so I can feel them more deeply.

You can measure your own emodiversity by taking the test at http://www.emodiversity.org/.

Does your score surprise you? Let us know in the comments.

p.s. The study reminded me of this TED Ed video that showcases the positive role sadness can play in our lives.