You are probably familiar with most of the emotion labels in this typology, but you may not immediately recognize the word elevation as an emotion. Although the experience has presumably been around for as long as humans have, elevation has not been extensively studied or discussed until recently. Elevation is similar to admiration in that they are a response to witnessing someone’s excellence. The main difference is that for admiration, this is non-moral excellence, such as impressive accomplishments or abilities, whereas elevation is a response to witnessing someone’s moral excellence.
You experience elevation when you see someone do a ‘good deed’. For example, when you see someone go out of their way to patiently help a senior person cross the street (kindness); someone jumping into the water to save a child (bravery); or someone telling the truth against their own interests (honesty).
Elevation is elicited by other people’s acts of virtue, moral beauty, or character strengths. To understand this emotion, we need to understand the concept of virtue, and recognize that the valuation of virtues can vary among cultures and individuals. A key element of all virtues is that they do not benefit the person directly – there is a selflessness, altruism, or sense of sacrifice present. The list of possible virtues is immense, and it depends on people’s personal disposition, to which ones they respond most strongly. Nevertheless, strong displays of virtue, such as acts of charity, gratitude, fidelity, or generosity are very likely to evoke elevation in most people.
The intensity of elevation increases with the atypicality/unexpectedness of the situation: when seeing someone helping a senior lady cross the road, you will probably feel higher levels of elevation when this person is a biker than when it were a boy scout. The amount of effort or sacrifice that is exhibited can also influence the intensity of this emotion.
Elevation results in several positive outcomes. It motivates emulation – the desire ‘of doing charitable and grateful acts also’1. It stimulates prosocial2 3 and nurturant behavior (hugging, cuddling, caring). And it encourages ‘spreading the goodness’ by telling others about the good deed4. Hence, like other ‘warm emotions’, elevation promotes social bonding and cooperation, and represents the antidote to cynicism. It helps us identify people with whom we want to form relationships, and on a group level, it reenforces group norms and virtues in a positive way by celebrating moral exemplars.
Elevation has been linked to increases in the levels of the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin. When you experience this emotion, the whole world seems like a better and more beautiful place. You have a warm feeling in the chest, you feel like you are floating, and you are prone to tearing up.
Elevation shares some similarity with gratitude: both are directed toward others who go out of their way to do something nice or good. The difference is that for gratitude, you yourself are the person benefiting from another person’s action, while for elevation, it is typically someone else. Moreover, gratitude does not necessarily involve a morally good deed, it can just be something appealing or desirable. Some scholars also see elevation as a form of feeling moved: in elevation, you are moved by a good deed. Two interesting opposites of elevation are moral anger (indignation) and moral disgust.