New research has found that people who know more positive words relating to the emotions are likely to have better mental health and those who naturally use words like glad, joyful, gleeful, perky and jolly are also likely to be in better physical health and those who use cheerful words were linked to being more outgoing, agreeable and conscientious.
Conversely, those who know more words for negative emotions reported higher levels of neuroticism and depression as well as more likely to be in worse physical health.
The study suggests that there is a congruency between how many different ways we can name a feeling and how often and likely we are to experience that feeling. The language we use feeds back into our mental state. People who used more words for sadness grew sadder and people who talked about fear became more fearful.
People using many different words for positive emotions, though, tended to show more linguistic markers of mental well-being. They talked about achievements, leisure activities and being part of a group.
The study helps underlines how important language is to our lived experience. It is not just a way of communicating with others, it is also how we tell ourselves how we are feeling. For example, it is likely that people who have had more upsetting life experiences have developed richer negative emotion vocabularies to describe the worlds around them. In everyday life, these same people can more readily label nuanced feelings as negative which may ultimately affect their moods.
Where possible we should be trying to use positive words to describe our feelings.