Hope and Happiness as Emotions

man on phone“What’s happening, Josh?” asks Bob.

“Well, I decided to ask Julie out on a date. Oh, how I’m hoping she’ll say yes! My mind keeps going over and over what I should say when I ask her.”

Two hours later.

“Hi Bob.  I just got off the phone with Julie. She said yes!  We’re going out on Saturday.  I’m so happy!”

“Nice!” Bob replies. “You must feel relieved to get that over with.”

“Well, now my mind is racing on how to plan the night so we have a wonderful time together!”

As in the above, the emotions of “hope” and “happiness” often come up in conversations. If you can learn to speak artfully about them, there is an excellent chance that you may increase the amount of respect people have for your intelligence. Here is one way to think about these emotions that has worked for me over the past several decades.

The DIG Conflict Model’s View of Emotions

In the DIG Conflict Model, there are four basic emotions.  The first two, threat and grief, are said to be negative emotions.

Threat and greiving


The second two basic emotions, hope and happiness, are said to be positive emotions.

Hope and Happiness

Emotions turn our attention from some less important situations to some specific situation that we have appraised at the moment as the highest priority. At the same time, they provide an extra boost of energy so we can deal with the highest priority situation in a manner that may require more than the usual level of effort. The negative emotions help us to deal with situations that people typically view, at least at first appearance, as negative, while positive emotions can help us to deal with situations that people typically view, at least at first appearance, as positive.

In a previous post, I focused in on the negative emotions.  Today, our focus is on the positive emotions. Let’s look at a parable to help us better understand the nature of hope and happiness.

The Parable of Santo

Santo is a waiter in Saint Paul and the father of two teenagers. He works the midnight to 10 a.m. shift at Mickey’s all night diner. He has been struggling to support his family with this low paying job.

This morning, after finishing his shift at work, an exhausted Santo drags himself into his car. Hector, one of the diner’s dish washers, slides into the passenger seat. Santo plans to take Hector home first before going on to his own home.     

At this moment, Santo’s immediate desires are expressed to Hector as he starts up the car. “All I want right now is to get home and go to sleep.” To achieve these desires, Santo understands that he will have to drive through some modest traffic and make several different turns. There have been some serious accidents along his route, but Santo is not thinking about this danger. He has a set of well practiced skills that have become so automatic that he is fully confident that he can get Hector home, and from there, he can go on and get himself home without much further thought about this.

As soon as Santo pulls his car into traffic, Hector begins to check his cell phone messages. “Wow!” Hector suddenly exclaims, “I got a text message from Rudy Anderson, the owner of Rudy’s Restaurant. Rudy says his day waiter has just quit and he wants to know if you’d be interested in applying for the job!”

van“You’re kidding!” yells Santo. “Rudy’s waiters get paid three times what I’m getting at the diner and it’d mean no more midnight shifts or moving my family into my beat-up van—that’d be great!!!”

“I’m not kidding,” says Hector. “Rudy wants you to stop by his restaurant as quick as you can.”

Santo yes“YES!” screams Santo, now full of the emotion of hope. He had been expecting to drive home and go to sleep. Wow, now what a change this unexpected news has created for him! His heart is beating rapidly and he no longer feels tired at all. After dropping Hector off, Santo rushes home and takes a quick shower, puts on some clean clothes, carefully combs his hair, and hustles over to Rudy’s Restaurant. There, Rudy greets Santo warmly, and after a discussion, Santo is hired.

When he leaves the restaurant having signed a contract, Santo now realizes his life has just changed from having hoped to land this job to knowing he now has the job. He experiences this change as the emotion of happiness.

Happiness2At home, Santo gets into bed to get some sleep, but finds that he can’t conk out even though he hasn’t slept in over twenty-four hours. With his mind racing, he thinks, “I have to buy some new clothes tomorrow. Man, what did I do to land this job at Rudy’s? Well, the big thing I did was to stop by there during an off-hour and introduce myself to Rudy even when he wasn’t looking for help. I told him that he had a great restaurant. I think it really helped when I told him that if he needed a sub for a day at any time I’d work for half the normal salary just to show him what I could do. Rudy liked that and tried me out, and I bet that’s what really sold him on me. I’ll remember to do that some more if I end up out of work again.”

Parable Interpretation

Hope1Let’s see if there is anything useful about hope and happiness that we can discover from this story. Notice that Santo, as he was heading home, had a plan to deal with his feelings of tiredness. Santo has confidence that he has a set of well practiced skills that are very likely to achieve this as he heads home in his van, and he begins to carry them out by guiding his car into traffic. As he does so, he is unaware of any emotion.  He does feel tired, and this type of feeling is less intense than a full blown emotion

As soon as Santo hears about the new job opportunity, he immediately recalls his desire to get a better job. Santo quickly appraises this new information. Clearly he notices that this is a change from what he was expecting. This change leads to the emotion of hope. Rudy'sThe function of this positive emotion is for him to shift his attention from all that he was thinking about before the emotion began and to instead focus on getting the job at Rudy’s.  The emotion also functions to give Santo a boost of energy so that he can increase his chances to get this job. Even though he had felt sleepy and exhausted before having the emotion of hope, he uses the boost of energy to think about what the best things to do right now, and he changes his plan to go to sleep as soon as he got home. Instead, he decides to wash up, get to Rudy’s Restaurant and apply for the job.

Happiness1Upon landing the job, Santo has achieved his desire, and with that, he realizes this means that there will be some good changes in his life, and he experiences the emotion of happiness. This happiness serves the function to give him a new burst of energy. We oftentimes need this extra burst of energy when we achieve a desire for two reasons.

First, we have to spend some extra time making arrangements for the new set of circumstances that led to the happiness. In the example involving Santo, he realizes that his new job will require some new clothes. He will have to carve out time during this transition period to pull together money so he can purchase the clothes.

Second, not only do we need the burst of energy to make preparations for our new circumstances that led to happiness, we also can benefit by taking some extra time to think about what led up to our success. By doing this, we can usually find something important to remember that we can reuse in the future. In our Santo example, he recalls how he had offered to work for Rudy at half the usual salary for a day or two so he could show him what a fine waiter he is. Santo will use part of the extra energy from his happiness to do the work necessary to place this very strategy in his memory bank in a form that will be more likely to be recalled if he ever loses his job again.

We see from this story that the positive emotions of hope and happiness function to shift our attention for a period of time to something appraised as particularly important and to provide us extra energy. We use this extra energy to carry out some important skills that can help us better achieve our desires.

hope2Now, sometimes we use the terms “hope” and “happiness” in a broader sense than when we are referring to the emotions of hope and happiness. For example, some people, if asked if they hope to retire in a few years, may reply, “Yes.”  At the moment that they say this, they are not in any real emotional state about this issue. Perhaps some pleasant, gentle feeling sweeps through some for a few seconds as they think of a time when they can do more of what they would prefer to be doing as time drifts by.  In a few seconds they are thinking of something else.

Sometimes I am asked if I am happy. I might quickly think to myself that nothing is currently bothering me, and so I might reply, “Yes, I guess so.”  Herhappiness3e again, there is no emotional state actually occurring as I say this, and the word “happiness” is being used to mean a relatively calm, non-distressed, pleasant experience.

Emotions are feelings, but more intense than most.  Although there is no clear dividing line between relatively pleasant feelings and a full blown positive emotional experience, most people can sense when their heart has distinctly quickened, their attention has fastened firmly on a particular desire, changing the subject is hard even if they try, and they find themselves vigorously planning and carrying ideas into actions for a period of time that extends far beyond some fleeting few seconds.  Emotions are of this nature.

Okay, there you have it. Here’s hoping the Santo parable and this little discussion gives you a better sense of what positive emotions are all about.


Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.


The Desire for Happiness
Bob Dylan On Happiness

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.


  1. Hi Jeffrey, thanks for the story and insight.
    From your post I got the idea you were differentiating the therapist actions and words from; imparting hope and happiness to creating their part of an environment where hope and happiness can arise from the client . CBT uses the idea (as does ACT and Compassion theory) that events dont cause emotion but the meaning the individual has about the event (or person). Some people are hopeing that the circumstances arise where they can have / feel happiness. They may come across a situation where they experience a happier emotion (note that happy is not an absolute but something that can continue to occur stronger and longer or more often). You noted that happy emotion can bring with it increased energy even when previously tired. and also the awakeness to allow the situation to be noted in memory, so that the attention is possible to allow improved recall at a later date. (Bandura). If the attention was on the realisation that happier is possible ( even more so than “what did i do that caused it”). And that it arose within them/us. When the internal environment was suitable (Paul Gilbert internal soothing mind). The individual could recall the feeling, independant of external conditions. Bringing energy, attention and awareness of new behaviours, into the next decision and action. The strength of the emotions of hope and happiness shows the potential of bringing the internal environment to a place where they can arise at will.
    Thanks for listening Jeffrey. Just a wee comment on people being able to take control of their happiness, (with initial support) with less reliance on particular events, hence recovery is possible whatever the life events of an individual. Hope allows for the motivation to keep practicing observing the good.

    • Hi Ian Boyd,

      Much thanks for your thoughtful comment. Because you have sought to express your views in the form of a wee comment, which is certainly understandable here, some of what you wrote is not entirely clear to me. I would like to reply as best as I can, knowing I might have misunderstood some of your points.

      I think we are in agreement that the meaning that a client makes of the event causes an emotion, although I think that environmental factors do interact with this meaning making.

      At one point you wrote “The strength of the emotions of hope and happiness shows the potential of bringing the internal environment to a place where they can arise at will.”

      I may be interpreting this sentence incorrectly, so please correct me if I am wrong, but to me, I strive to set the conditions so that the client does NOT seek to focus on increasing the strength of the emotions of hope and happiness. As I explained in an earlier post, setting a goal of happiness at any strength level is not in my view useful. I prefer to set the conditions that lead to the client choosing to set more useful goals than happiness by itself, create plans to achieve them, and to expect disappointment, moments of perceiving threats to achieving them, moments of grieving when some goals are not achieved, moments when some of our actions lead to increase hope, and when useful goals are achieved, happiness comes from this. The intensity of the happiness comes from perceiving all of the trials and disappointments that were overcome to achieve the goal plus the perceived value of the goal, itself.

      Consider a middle class guy who has the goal of having a fine dinner at his favorite diner. He has some well practice skills to achieve his goal, all goes as expected, and as he eats his food, he feels some degree of happiness. The happiness in my mind does not really reach the level of an emotion, just a modest pleasant feeling. Now consider a major league player who has worked his whole life with the goal of winning a World Series. There were times he struck out in a big game, there were losing streaks that tested his resolve, and after several years, it is the last out of the final game of the World Series. There’s a fly ball to him. He catches it and he and his team have won! I don’t know if you have ever seen the faces of players just at the point when they have won a World Series, but they are having an emotion. They are thrilled. This is very different then sitting in a room and saying to oneself, I can make myself as happy as I want simply by doing some cognitive maneuvering.

      I know I might have misinterpreted some point that you have made, but this is my reaction at this point in our discussion. Thoughts?


      • Hi Jeffrey,
        Thanks for replying and clarifying. I know it is difficult to share experience in words like this, so thanks for giving me the chance to explain. I certainly agree that a particular goal of happiness set by the therapist is not helpful for the reasons you mentioned. The longer term daily mood of happier brought about by the percieved self-efficacy of meeting daily tasks and dealing with winning or losing. Is, as you say different from short term emotion of thrill and joy as a response to success. I was’nt suggesting that “cognitive maneuvering” is best used or useful to bring about genuine Joy or ecstatic feelings. I was suggesting that cognitive maneuvering is a skill that can be realised by clients (hence all of us) to change their persective. The evidence they can use, is any small or large emotion of happier, to realise it is possible for them (hope). Maybe I am talking about a rise in mood (long term) and differentiating it form short term emotion changes depending on percieved success or failure regarding a task. To be able to gain long term mood change, short term emotion improvements can be experienced despite the external environment. with practice these emotional improvements can come more often and longer and stronger. This is not a goal just an outcome of practice percieved by the individual. The “stronger” I am describing would be from the peaceful energetic confidence built up. I know this is not the best way to share ideas on how people can become happier. But I’m glad to have had the oppertunity to share. I know there is a lot more to say about the practical steps. And I know I havent mentioned all your points.
        kind regards

        • Hi Ian,
          I enjoyed reading your follow-up comment, and as far as I understand what you have written, I think we are largely, and perhaps entirely, in agreement. There are, I theorize, certain habits of thought that many people have developed which decreases the probability that they will achieve many of their goals. Their self efficacy is thus lower, and they give up prematurely on achieving many of their goals and thus loose out on opportunities to experience hope and happiness.

          If these people were to walk around with one of the devices used in “flow” studies, that randomly beep and when that occurs they rate how happy they are, I think we would both predict that such people probably would tend to have lower levels of rated happiness. That theory strikes me as tenable.

          It would be useful to do a study of this type in which certain habitual thought patterns that are theorized as being counterproductive were identified, and then people who displayed these patterns were compared in level of happiness at random periods of the day to those who do not display these identified patterns. Would that type of study be helpful to lend support to what you have said in your last comment?

          • Hi Jeffrey,
            Yes, I think that kind of study would be useful. What comes to mind for me is differentiating between those individuals that habitually consider that their thoughts are about them. such as “I think and feel such and such” “I am such and such because of that thought or feeling”. people can identify with an habitual thought because it occurs regularily. Such as “I am an angry person” because I have had an angry thought and feel angry” . They may identify the situation as causing the anger and their thought of “this isnt fair”. Their behaviour is then played out angrily.

            I would contrast this with those that can accomadate thoughts and feelings while still considering their task or situation. My impression is that cognitions arising from memory and recall (including learned behaviour), and imagination (regarding “what if” and future consequence), can be regarded as useful but not them. They can choose from information about the present, information recieved by the senses. Hence choose the most appropriate behaviour. These people would have conditions arising more often whereby happier can be percieved.
            I am not saying individuals are that black and white or easily differentiated to make a study easy . Your idea where an habitual thought is studied to observe ; -does it allow for conditions of happier-, seems like a good start. I hope a study design can be chosen.?? good luck 🙂

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