My research has also found that elevation isn’t just a construct of Western societies, suggesting that it might be an innate human emotion, or such an important emotion that it is constructed across different societies. In 1998, Yuki Amano, a Japanese-American student working with me, conducted interviews with 15 people from varied backgrounds in Japan. She found that they were emotionally responsive to the good deeds of others in ways that resembled the responses of American subjects. Many of the interviews revolved around Japanese words for heart (kimochi, kokoro), and for times when the heart is moved (kandou). Informants described a variety of situations that moved their hearts, such as seeing a gang member give up his seat on a train to an elderly person, seeing news about Mother Teresa, and watching the band in the movie Titanic play on courageously as the ship sank. For example, when interviewing a 46-year-old housewife, the following exchange took place.
Q: Have you ever had positive feelings due to something others did?
A: Yes I have. For example, when there is a natural disaster in another country, those who actually go there and help people as volunteers. Also those who do things within [their limits], such as collecting money and food and clothes for those who are suffering from disaster.
Q: Can you explain these feelings in detail?
A: I wonder if there is anything that I can do with my own strength. For example, donating money, giving clothes, and I have done that before myself. ... I think how I could join those people, even though what I have done is not much compared to what they do.
Q: When you have these feelings, do you have any physical feeling?
A: When I see news of a disaster, I feel pain in my chest, and tears actually come out when I read the newspaper. Then after that, see¬ing volunteers and finding out that there are helping people out there, the pain goes away, the heart brightens up (akarui) and I feel glad (yokatta), relieved (anshin), admiration (sugoi), and respect (sonkei). When I see volunteers, the heart heavy from sad news becomes lighter.
About The Author
Jonathan D. Haidt, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the department of psychology at the University of Virginia. His article draws from his chapter in Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well-Lived (American Psychological Association, 2003), a book he co-edited with Corey L.M. Keyes.