Mood vs emotion
I don’t know if there’s an ‘official’ psychological definition for the distinction between these two. But for the purposes of this post, I’m making my own. Emotions are short-term things, which are typically more intense and often caused by something external. For example, I might be angry because I can’t find something I want. Moods are long-term things, which are typically less intense and more internal. For example, I’m depressed over several weeks of being vaguely sad and hopeless.
I actually have a lot of trouble with the distinction, though. I can logically define it like this, but that doesn’t really help me see it at the time. When I’m temporarily sad (a short-term emotion), I often mistakenly assume that my mood is bad and will be bad for a long time. In fact, I think I’ve figured out that my main problem is simply being unable to notice moods at all.
There are a lot of reasons why it’s hard for me.
- Moods only exist in the long-term. So I can’t just go “I am in a negative mood at this moment”, I have to be aware of my state over several hours, days, or weeks.
- Emotions are more obvious than moods. If I’m having a specific emotion, it overwrites the mood and makes it harder to detect.
- Emotions and moods are similar but not quite the same. It’s very hard to tell what is one or the other.
Those aren’t the only reasons I can’t ‘see’ my moods, but they’re some of the main ones. It’s pretty hard for me to even figure out why I have trouble with it – it feels like I don’t have enough words in my vocabulary to explain.
I know that I have moods, but I can’t actually identify them internally. I have to just try and pick up on them via the things that I can notice:
- Emotions. E.g., if I’m having sad, angry, or negative emotions a lot, it means my mood is more likely to be negative.
- Actions. E.g., if I’m tired a lot and don’t want to do things, it probably means my mood is negative.
- Thoughts. E.g., if my default thoughts are things which sound negative (like “Life is hopeless”, or “I’m a terrible person”) – even when I’m not feeling particularly sad – I can assume they’re down to my mood.
- Other people. Often, my parents are the first to notice that my mood is getting low. They’ll ask why I seem down, even though I don’t think I’m in a sad emotion – that’s a sign that my underlying mood is low anyway.
I’ve tried tracking my mood in the long-term, because I thought that my main problem was memory (it’s hard for me to remember both emotion and mood states that I’m not in). But I realised that’s not actually the problem, because I can’t give a momentary measure of mood. My moods don’t exist ‘in the moment’, only the long-term. I can’t say, “my mood score has been below zero all week so I’m getting depressed”, because I can’t measure my ‘mood score’. I end up tracking my emotional state, which is not a particularly good indicator of overall mood, and just ends up confusing me.
I don’t have a solution for this. I don’t know what other people do to identify their moods. Maybe other people have an innate sense for it. What difference does it make, anyway? Do other people change their behaviour when they identify a certain mood? Maybe they do. It certainly feels like I’m missing some ability that other people seem to have, but I can’t be sure what would be different if I did have it.