We feel fine montageThe image at the right is from the wonderfully revealing “We Feel Fine” project. Scouring the internet for expressions of emotions, It is a project in mass, anonymous,  intimacy. Not only is the site poetically and artistically moving, on a practical level it gives us a sampling of the utterances we scrabble together or craft with exquisite care in an attempt to make our inner experience available to others.

If we look carefully at groups of these utterances, they give us a picture of how we express our emotions around the world, and how the expressions we choose make clear communications so difficult.

The statements the engine finds, as it searches blogs every 10 minutes, are often banal (I feel sooo good), yet sometimes quite touching (i’m alone with you you make me feel like i am clean).

You’ll find a variety of interfaces on the site, including a set of montages of single posts like the one above as well as visual representations of groupings of expressions, like this one to the left.  Tools We feel happy(programming API’s) on the site allow you to collect groups of statements along with images from the blogs and whatever demographic information the engine has been able to find on the sites where the entries are posted. 

Below, you’ll find a list of utterances I collected as they came into the site at about 9:30 p.m. PST last night.

I’ve stripped off just the feeling that the WeFeelFine engine identified and the sentence it found the word encased in. In some cases, I’ve changed the words in the feeling column to reflect the feeling expressed in the sentence. We’re concerned with how people express their feelings and not with how precise or imprecise John Harris’s and Sepandar Kamvar’s engine is when it comes to parsing sentences and recognizing parts of speech. 

I’ve grouped the utterances in a rough taxonomy according to what the statement is expressing (a metaphor, an opinion, a comparison, etc.) and listed them with the categories containing the largest number of utterances first so we can see what people are using the language of feelings to express.

I’ve included some comments following the table.

    Feeling Sentence
    Feeling Sentence
Metaphorical – feel as people do in certain circumstances
1 coming home i fought with you so bitterly albeit charecteristically silently and secretly there was that coming home feeling underlining each moment
2 homesick i feel homesick for the feel of you
3 empty i feel pretty empty now
4 like dancing i felt like dancing the in the aisle and left feeling good
5 i can practically feel the stress loosening its grip
6 like a princess i feel like a princess
7 standing i feel like i am left standing in the cold still picking up pieces while they ve moved on with life as usual
8 clean i’m alone with you you make me feel like i am clean
9 whole i feel like a whole new cook student writer girl and will be using the things i ve learned to better document my life as i experience it
10 steady i feel more steady on my feet i guess i ll just have to put these away
11 like god i feel like god by q
12 like god i feel like god a href http: www
Thoughts or opinions – I feel that, as if, as though
1 important i feel is vitally more important to not only us as a nation but to the rest of the world
2 written i’d finished i started getting the feeling that she looked like someone some character i’d written or read about but it keeps slipping away and now i’ve no idea
3 small i sometimes feel as though the hope and faith i had in that small piece of my own heart is gone
4 i have vader armor too i dont feel my personality is suited to be vader
5 new i feel like i need to work onn something new to give me a sign that i am making progress
6 set i feel i did a fill in set at city club in july on a friday
7 i don’t feel the least bit creative at this place
8 cute i feel he really looks cute but needs to lose many pounds and have a solid scrub bath
9 alien i come back to the files on my host and i m in the wordpress dashboard i feel like it s all alien to me
10 guilty i had to take a picture of the quote on your shirt because it follows me throughout my life and makes me feel guilty
Vague comparatives – good/better, bad/worse
1 bad i feel sort of bad because when harper was on her way i made her all kinds of things
2 bad i just think that our gov job planing is really lauya know that every friday after 12pm is peak hour for traffic flow then they still plan on the afternoon time to do the road construction really feel bad to gov
3 terrible i feel terrible a shaken novak told reporters from politico and wjla as he was returning to his car
4 bad i feel bad for jumping to the wrong conclusion after his money grubbing mom and sis filed assualt charges
5 better i feel better
6 bad i feel really bad i don’t remember the names of all these beautiful buildings
7 good i feel soooo good
Feelings and physical states
1 scared i think of it i feel a little scared
2 happy i feel as a happy person
3 comfortable i like the slightly baggy feel of these makes them look really comfortable
4 i feel like vomiting when i start drink second cup of it
5 strange i feel a strange surge of adrenaline that motivates me to tutor them every single day
6 regret i got are terrible i feel regret in getting those so next time i’ll try to find canon brand accessories
Judgments I make of myself, other people or other things
1 old i feel too old for baseball hats
2 annoying i want to talk about it this is the only that i visited made me want to sleep and feel annoying with the music
3 dated i don t remember the things i edited or added and it all feels dated
4 terrible i had a job where i come home and feel so terrible about myself
Verbs that end in “ed”, something I think is being done to me
1 honored i’d feel all honored
2 compelled i realize it isn t exactly my job to be an ambassador or a patrol officer to guard sea turtle nests along the coast i feel compelled to protect them whenever i hit the beach
Don’t Know
1 i feel a a title the princess diaries
2 i realise i am one of those addicted to this feeling
3 i feel about voting for obama
4 unturned i feel when i see or know that they can continue to enjoy life like nothing s unturned and i m struggling to get my own joy back
5 deep i feel runs deep and it has effected every single choice i ve made in dealing with men in my life
6 certain i don t want to feel a certain way
7 done i feel about the people in my past that have done harm indirectly or directly
8 whatever i can say that i ve learned to do is allow myself to feel whatever i feel at any given time and be okay with it
i didn t have this feeling before
It’s easiest to get at the implications of language if you imagine that you are a customer service agent hearing epxressions of emtions from an upset customer, though the conclusions we’ll draw are equally applicable if you’re in the boardroom with a colleague or the bedroom with a loved one.

These bloggers most often used the language of feelings in metaphor (I feel like a princess, like I’m standing in the cold, homesick, like god). Of course, in the extreme all language is metaphor: a semantic network built on concrete referents. The root of the word ‘language’, for instance, is tongue while the word ‘root’ iteself comes from wyrt meaning plant in Old English.

That’s part of what makes metaphor so powerful, it allows us to explain new or personal experiences using universal concepts. This is also the weakness of metaphor. If you’re a customer service agent working with an irate customer, or a company executive working with an irate colleague and you hear that dealing with this problem has been a real roller coaster ride, it could mean that it’s been fast and scary, that it’s had a lot of ups and downs, or that it’s been physically stressful. And those multiple meanings need to be sorted out before you can offer solutions that the other person will welcome.

The second, fifth, and sixth categories are comprised of thoughts, opinions judgments of oursleves, and stories about what others are doing to us all dressed in the language of feelings. Together, they make up the largest section of the sample, about a third of all utterances. These are often the most dangerous to handle. They’re the reason I tell HR to be careful following advice to “validate feelings”. When you validate opinions such as “I feel abandoned” or “I feel betrayed” you can end up helping someone sharpen their claims against your organization, like this:

I feel kind of betrayed.
So you feel manipulated?
More steamrollered, really.
So you feel, run over, is that it?
Yeah, abused, I’d guess you’d say.

The third category of feeling language encompasses the comparatives – good/better, bad/worse. This language has all the failings of metaphor and none of the benefits. It’s just vague, unhelpful language.

The fourth category covers real emotions, those rooted in physical experience. I feel happy, sad, mad, and afraid, physically vigorous or physically depleted. This is the most useful language for clear communication. Using this language, speakers indicate whether they’re getting their needs met and to what extent. Someone getting her needs met a little will be contented while that person going without getting fundamental needs met may be feeling exhausted or desperate. Notice that this effective communication makes up only 6 of the 49 statement in this sample.

Finally, we end with a category that we can’t place. The sentences refer to some previously made statement about feelings or are too ambiguous.

Tim’s Takeaways:

If you’re going to communicate clearly, it’s very important to understand whether the person you’re communicating with is getting her needs met and to what extent. There’s a lot that masquerades as the feelings in our lanaguage and most of it hides information rather than revealing it. The best way to determine if you’re talking about authentic feelings is to ask yourself, “when I think that, how do I feel?”

I feel citicized.
When I think that, how do I feel?
Put on.
When I think that, how do I feel?
Angry and disappointed.
When I think that, how do I feel?
Just angry and disappointed. (That’s my authentic feeling.)

And those feelings provide that base level information you need to start building up solutions. They pint me to what I can add to make things go better.

 

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