How Do You Really Feel?

The question of “How are you feeling today?” is one asked by professionals of a wide variety of fields, not just those in the mental health professions. Regardless of who is asking the question, it seems, people tend to answer with some degree of dishonesty, whether intentional or not. Those who are not feeling very well at all may answer that they’re fine to avoid a discussion, or those who are in fact feeling great may respond in the negative if concentrating on a short and isolated event. The difficulty of gathering reliable data about the given happiness levels of people has been a significant challenge in mental health research for decades, but a new study based at the University of Vermont and slated for publication in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Happiness Studies may have found a dependable way to get a straight answer.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the research team turned to the internet for its opening into the thoughts and feelings of people on a regular and possibly more honest basis than in-person interactions. As extraordinary numbers of people around the world frequently express their feelings and ideas on blogs and other personal publications, the team worked to gather information from feelings noted as people openly wrote online. Gathering a multitude of statements beginning with “I feel,” or “I am feeling,” the team ran sentences through a filter pairing certain words with different happiness scores, based on past academic study.

While the method may have a great deal of work ahead in order to refine its ability to see into the moods and minds of people online, it has so far been able to report that last fall’s Election Day was the happiest day on the internet in a period of four years. As the research into human happiness continues, it’s hoped this trend will continue upward.

© Copyright 2009 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Sawitz


    August 6th, 2009 at 8:27 PM

    Doesn’t it often go like this:

    Person A: How are you doing?
    Person B: Oh, Fine thanks. How about you?
    Person A: Good also, Thanks.
    Person A: That’s good.
    Person B: Bye then.
    Person A: Ok, bye bye now.

    And that is a typical superficial American interaction that leads people to feel isolated and to keep their true stuff locked up without even knowing they’re doing it. Is it this way everywhere, polite and meaningless???

  • Kayla


    August 7th, 2009 at 2:01 AM

    I definitely think that it is easier to open up while writing or while talking to someone in more of a distant setting (ie chatting online) than it is for me to open up face to face. I do not know why that is but it has always been the case for me. Something about being face to face and baring your soul is very scary for me while I could pour my heart out to someone on the phone. So yeah I do the traditional expected answers to someone when I meet them and they ask me how I am doing. But if we were online or even writing the response would almost certainly be a whole lot more in depth and probably a good deal more reflective of what is going on in my life at that time.

  • Betsy Davenport, PhD

    Betsy Davenport, PhD

    August 7th, 2009 at 1:00 PM

    A more useful question might be, “What are you feeling?”

  • Brandi


    August 8th, 2009 at 8:36 AM

    Yes! That’s a far superior question Betsy. How are you feeling often generates a kneejerk response of okay, fine, good thanks and so on. What are you feeling means we have to be in the moment to know the answer and not be on autoresponder. Very good point!

  • Dionne S.

    Dionne S.

    August 8th, 2009 at 9:56 AM

    Sawitz, polite meaninglessness is how society chooses it to be. When you ask a guy in your lunch hour how he is, do you want to hear a long answer about why he’s feeling the way he does? My guess is you would say no. That kind of time’s too precious to waste on another person. A thirty second exchange is apparently an acceptable substitute. Not.

    Isolation nine times out of ten is by choice but who wants to be honest and admit they choose a hour with a TV show over an hour with a human being? I rest my case.

  • Beth Patterson, MA, LPC

    Beth Patterson, MA, LPC

    August 14th, 2009 at 2:07 PM

    As a psychotherapist who does lot of body centered work, I find the question “where are you feeling it?” very useful, and then explore the direct bodily experience of the feeling. I believe that our bodies hold our wisdom, and once we get into our heads, something is lost in translation. Of course, asking the question “where are you feeling it” gets into the how and the what.

  • Cassie V.

    Cassie V.

    August 15th, 2009 at 6:33 PM

    Beth do you mean there are physical signs in different parts of the body that give away how you feel emotionally or is body centered work different? Because I get stiff as a board when I’m stressed and my jaw aches I’m so rigid. I could scream some days! But I don’t. The neighbors wouldn’t like it. :)

  • Beth Patterson, MA, LPC

    Beth Patterson, MA, LPC

    August 16th, 2009 at 7:11 PM

    Cassie – Yes, your description is accurate. Getting stiff and having your jaw ache are definitely signals that your body is telling you that you are stressed out and need to relax. It is so useful to be aware of what our bodies are telling us!

  • Elizabeth R.

    Elizabeth R.

    August 16th, 2009 at 9:36 PM

    What about the silent majority that aren’t represented by the bloggers? Bloggers who feel strongly enough to put it on their blog are the open types that would tell you anyway. What this gathering of information does is tell us the happiness levels of chatty bloggers.

  • Dionne S.

    Dionne S.

    August 16th, 2009 at 9:38 PM

    Let’s just be grateful the researchers didn’t look at Twitter. What a cesspit of banality that is!

  • HarrietR


    August 16th, 2009 at 10:08 PM

    I guess it’s too much to hope for that teenage drama was excluded from it. I must run. I have to go write on my blog and figure out how to mess with them.

  • themuse


    August 16th, 2009 at 10:15 PM

    A real heartfelt “how are you” from yourself to another would be the way to change that polite and meaningless vibe, Sawitz. When we don’t like something and do nothing about it, life becomes a little more negative than positive. Make a difference.

  • Wanderer


    August 16th, 2009 at 10:27 PM

    Before you can inspire with emotion, you must be swamped with it yourself. Before you can move their tears, your own must flow. To convince them, you must yourself believe. – Winston Churchill

    Before you do any of that, you have to know how you feel.

  • Gabriel


    August 16th, 2009 at 10:31 PM

    Trouble is, no one wants to hear it. We’re too wrapped up in our own little kingdoms fighting the dragons. Dionne’s right.

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