The five circles slowly pulsing on my screen are meant to visualize the entire core of human emotion. Fear. Disgust. Anger. Sadness. Enjoyment.
Reductive? Yes. But that’s exactly the point of the Atlas of Emotions, a compelling new data visualization commissioned by the Dalai Lama. Based on psychology research and rendered by Stamen, one of the top data visualization firms in the U.S., the atlas was designed to “increase understanding of how emotions influence our lives.” It launched last weekend and has already been viewed by 170,000 visitors around the world…
For viewers, the visualization encourages introspection. Exploring the various states of enjoyment, I can’t help but consider how sensory pleasures in my life–like a good meal–differ from sensations like pride or wonder. I’m surprised to see schadenfreude categorized under enjoyment. I think of enjoyment as such a positive force in my life, but taking joy in the misery of others puts a dark spin on my happiest emotion.
And there are practical implications here. Whether or not you subscribe to the Buddhist practices of mindfulness, psychologists have found that cognitive behavioral therapy–being able to recognize your emotional states and take a proactive view of understanding their causes–can be an extremely effective way to manage day-to-day stresses. In this regard, it’s easy to imagine the atlas as a sort of prescription for mindfulness. And indeed, Ekman hopes its effectiveness as a clinical tool might be studied into the future.