Research Article: Emotions in Everyday Life

Date Published: December 23, 2015

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Debra Trampe, Jordi Quoidbach, Maxime Taquet, Alessio Avenanti.


Despite decades of research establishing the causes and consequences of emotions in the laboratory, we know surprisingly little about emotions in everyday life. We developed a smartphone application that monitored real-time emotions of an exceptionally large (N = 11,000+) and heterogeneous participants sample. People’s everyday life seems profoundly emotional: participants experienced at least one emotion 90% of the time. The most frequent emotion was joy, followed by love and anxiety. People experienced positive emotions 2.5 times more often than negative emotions, but also experienced positive and negative emotions simultaneously relatively frequently. We also characterized the interconnections between people’s emotions using network analysis. This novel approach to emotion research suggests that specific emotions can fall into the following categories 1) connector emotions (e.g., joy), which stimulate same valence emotions while inhibiting opposite valence emotions, 2) provincial emotions (e.g., gratitude), which stimulate same valence emotions only, or 3) distal emotions (e.g., embarrassment), which have little interaction with other emotions and are typically experienced in isolation. Providing both basic foundations and novel tools to the study of emotions in everyday life, these findings demonstrate that emotions are ubiquitous to life and can exist together and distinctly, which has important implications for both emotional interventions and theory.

Partial Text

Hundreds of papers in psychology, medicine, marketing, management, and many other fields begin by asserting that emotions are ubiquitous to human life. But exactly how “ubiquitous” are they? A tremendous body of work has established that various stimuli and situations can cause emotions [1–4] and that once people experience emotions, it guides their thoughts and behaviors [5, 6]. However, despite decades of research establishing the causes and consequences of emotions in the laboratory, we know surprisingly little about emotions in real life. That is, how many hours a day do we feel happy, in love, fearful, or disgusted? What specific emotional state should we seek to offset a burst of anger? Is gratitude really an antidote for sadness? Answering these fundamental questions about the frequency and centrality (i.e., interconnectedness) of emotions in everyday life is crucial to our understanding of human experience and may guide research and interventions in important ways. In the current research, we report the first “big data” account of how people actually experience emotions in real-time in their everyday life. Bringing together network science and emotion research for the first time, we use network analysis to elucidate interrelations between emotions. This approach provides new insights into our everyday emotional life.

We sought to capture and characterize people’s everyday emotional experiences through an experience sampling smartphone application. Our findings revealed that everyday human life is profoundly emotional: people reported experiencing at least one emotion 90% of the time. Positive emotions were reported over 2.5 times more frequently than negative emotions. This finding is consistent with previous studies that aimed to capture everyday emotional experience [13,14,16,35]. We also found that people indicated simultaneously experiencing both negative and positive emotions a substantial amount of the time, which extends laboratory studies on mixed emotions [36]. Finally, an examination of the interconnections within the emotional network provided the first evidence that distinct emotions can be characterized in three broad types depending on whether they interact with emotions of the same and opposite valence (connector emotions), of the same valence only (provincial emotions), or do not interact with other emotions (distal emotions). We believe these findings break new grounds in two important ways.