Recently, I´ve written a post on Jonathan Haidt´s research on the emotion of awe. Closely connected to this emotion is the feeling of elevation. In fact, Haidt posits that elevation oftentimes is a result of experiencing awe. Here´s what he has to say on elevation in one of his research articles on that topic:
“Elevation is elicited by acts of charity, gratitude, fidelity, generosity, or any other strong display of virtue. It leads to distinctive physical feelings; a feeling of ‘dilation’ or opening in the chest, combined with the feeling that one has been uplifted or ‘elevated’ in some way. It gives rise to a specific motivation or action tendency: emulation, the desire ‘of doing charitable and grateful acts also.’ It is the opposite of the disgust reaction towards vice. In sum, elevation is a response to acts of moral beauty in which we feel as though we have become (for a moment) less selfish, and we want to act accordingly”.
According to Haidt, elevation can be distinguished from another ‘other-praising’ emotion: admiration. In his words:
“If elevation is a response to moral excellence that does not benefit the self, […] what is the emotional response to non-moral excellence? What do people feel when they see extraordinary displays of skill, talent, or achievement? We nominate the term admiration.”
The following 3-minute Youtube clip invokes a feeling within me that seems to be a blend of both elevation and admiration. It is an African flash mob song performed by the Soweto Gospel Choir in memory and honor of the late Nelson Mandela.* Obviously, I do not understand one word – but I googled it and supposedly it means something like “Bon Voyage” or “Godspeed”. I feel admiration just by listening to the beautiful voices – but there´s also something else. I´m deeply touched and moved to tears even though I do not know what the lyrics are about. ** But just by watching and listening, you can almost physically touch the love that those singers feel for “Madiba”.
* Actually, it´s a commercial – but who cares…
** So far, this has happened just once in my life. That time, it was the song “Kawaipunahele” by Hawaiian singer Keali’i Reichel.