Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Feeling the Mood

In addition to such fleeting feelings as joy or distress, our mental lives exhibit a longer-term emotional character, which we might call 'mood'. Over a period of several months, one might characteristically exhibit (any one of) depression, irrepressible cheerfulness, or anything in between. One's mood, so understood, may be a kind of disposition to react in certain ways, or to rally variously successful coping skills. It may manifest in one's general attitude towards life, as an optimist or pessimist, for instance.

Mood looms large in our self-narrated life-stories. At least, I find that I tend to classify periods of my life according to the remembered progression of such moods. (For instance, there's a certain period in high school defined more or less by depression. And, at the other extreme, the first couple of months here in Canberra stand out in my memory - as a distinctive "period" - for being so consistently wonderful.) It's an interesting question just how accurate such remembered impressions are, since of course they gloss over a lot of details. We may blot out shorter periods that are inconsistent with the general mood: forgetting the good that occurs during the bad times, and vice versa. Should this lead us to be skeptical of assigning much moral import to these narratives (say as determinant of the welfare value of one's life)? Or is it legitimate -- is the dominating memorial influence of mood a genuine reflection of its dominating importance?

(I guess I should also check whether my introspective claims resonate with others. Perhaps I have an unusual psychology, or otherwise misreport what's really going on.)

Questions of 'overriding weight' aside, it seems clear enough that mood is at least an important feature of our welfare. When people speak of the desirability of happiness, I think they're generally getting at the importance of positive moods (contentment, life satisfaction, etc.) rather than mere fleeting sensations of pleasure. So, in light of this importance, it becomes an important question how our moods are influenced, and especially whether there are positive influences that are within our power to implement.

Any answers?



  1. I think you're right that mood is important to welfare (and would say it is clearly more important than occurrent pleasures and pains).

    I don't have any answers, but it occurs to me that depression, because it has been studied so much, would be a good place to start. From what little I've read on the subject, there's no consensus about the causes of depression (perhaps because many different things are contributing factors). This essay discusses one interesting set of possibilities that would be relevant to the topic (because it looks at how social bonds might lighten or darken an already existing mood). It also seems to me that a big question that would have to be answered in order to determine the moral importance of mood is the relation between mood and its objective correlate -- e.g., between being depressed and having things that reasonable people might be depressed about. It's clear that there can be a detachment -- people who have great lives who go through a good portion of their lives thinking that they are failures, or the very common phenomenon of graduate students who are doing very well but who nonetheless go through a period thinking that they are imposters not cut out for graduate work. But how much of a detachment is there? In some sense, a person who is depressed can find enough to be depressed about, as you point out. How do find the overall 'average' of the experiences, or else how do you decide which experiences to count and which to discount?

    Put that way I wonder if, despite the obvious importance of mood to welfare, we can't accurately gauge the role of mood without already having an adequate theory of welfare, one that can handle mood. If that's so, the question is how one would go about bootstrapping without making too many unnecessary assumptions.

  2. Maybe if some off-topic, this reminds me a question about the psychological character of such states as 'mood', regarding the (at some moment in time at least, considered as) determining note of intentionality. Of course, intentionality applies to what is called psychological acts, as feelings, thoughts, memories, etc, wich have some kind of object (something is felt, something is thought, etc), so it would be intentional to feel a mood. But isn't that more precisely be concious (or aware) of a mood? (or too, in the case Richard suggested, to remember a mood (i.e. another peculiar intentional act)?) What could be the difference? If we consider the mood as such, there is not anything like an object in it (instead, it seems to be kind of 'atmospherical').
    Other interesting thing is that somehow mood changes the way we relate to things (it is, it somehow determines or affects other psychological conditions, in this case, [intentional] acts - by example, I could say that the way I feel about somebody isn't now the same I felt during a time my 'mood' was depressive) This could be a factor to consider when dealing about our memories (and narratives) of moods, and affects our own (even, theoretical) way to consider the phenomenon. Other thing, partialy related to this, is wether we are constantly in some kind of 'mood'. What, then, makes a peculiar mood to seem more relevant? That is a good question Richard did.
    [If my english isn't that good (how could I know?, I'm a spanish speaker, not an english one), please excuse]


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