The latest prescription for inner peace comes from no less an expert than the Dalai Lama. To fill it, however, you'll have to leave your wellness mat and sign onto the web.
That's where users can find the Atlas of Emotions, an interactive website that teaches people about emotions and how they work. The goal is to encourage self-awareness and, ultimately, inner calm. It was commissioned by the Dalai Lama and developed largely by Paul Ekman, a psychologist known for his research on nonverbal behavior like facial expressions and gestures.
"Ultimately, our emotion is the real troublemaker," the Dalai Lama told The New York Times. "We have to know the nature of that enemy."
The atlas is grounded in the results of a survey, conducted by Ekman in 2014, in which he polled 248 emotion scientists, neuroscientists, and psychologists worldwide. The questions were aimed at identifying where there was agreement in the field about the nature of emotions. Among the key findings: 88 percent of respondents agreed there are emotions that are universally felt and expressed by humans. The big five are anger, fear, disgust, sadness, and happiness. (With a semantic tweak from happiness to joy, Pixar fans will recognize them as the characters in charge of an adolescent girl's mind and moods in the animated film Inside Out — no coincidence, as Ekman advised on the movie.)
From there, Ekman worked with his daughter, Eve Ekman, a postdoctoral fellow doing research in meaning, empathy, and burnout, and the cartography and data visualization firm Stamen Design. He was paid at least $750,000 by the Dalai Lama, reports The New York Times.
The atlas is a mesmerizing work that employs color, shape, and movement to great effect. Go to the homepage and you'll find five kaleidoscopic circles of color bobbing pleasantly, as absorbing as a lava lamp, a visual invitation to click and stay awhile. These represent the so-called continents of emotion identified through the survey (again, happiness is represented by "enjoyment").
From there, users choose a continent to explore, learning about the different states of a particular emotion — charted on a graph from least to most intense — and how each is defined. Specificity, it would seem, is key to getting in touch with your feelings. Sure, you're angry. But more precisely, are you annoyed, exasperated, bitter, or furious? Is your sadness born of disappointment, discouragement, hopelessness, or grief?
Unsurprisingly, the states of enjoyment include some delightful terms that can expand your emotional vocabulary. The Italian "fiero" describes "the enjoyment felt when you have met a challenge that stretched your capabilities." "Naches" is Yiddish for "feelings of pride in the accomplishments, or sometimes just the existence, of your actual offspring or mentored offspring."
Other pages deal in cause and effect, diagramming the actions that may result from experiencing a particular emotion — grief can lead people to withdraw, to seek comfort, or to mourn — and the ways those feelings might be triggered. Fans of opposing sports teams can inspire disgust; so, too, can eating insects or raw meat.
No matter which emotion you begin with, the click-through progression of maps and charts leads to calm. Or at least, to a webpage that gently reminds us "a calm, balanced frame of mind is necessary to evaluate and understand our changing emotions." If only it was that easy.
Still, the Dalai Lama has high hopes for the atlas' influence.
"We have, by nature or biologically, this destructive emotion, also constructive emotion," he told The New York Times. "This innerness, people should pay more attention to, from kindergarten level up to university level. This is not just for knowledge, but in order to create a happy human being. Happy family, happy community, and finally, happy humanity."