There are many different things that can ‘move’ or ‘touch’ you. For example, you may be moved when a family member finally comes home after a year of military service abroad; when you attend the very last match of a legendary football player; when you hear the national anthem; or when a couple expresses their love for each other at their wedding. In each case, there is something beautiful, meaningful, rare, and sometimes bittersweet about the moment.
Many different stimuli can elicit this emotion, including: reunion after physical (e.g., a soldier returning home) or social separation (e.g., a man finally feels accepted by his father); overwhelming beauty (e.g., witnessing the majesty of the Northern Lights); meaningful ending of something positive (e.g., the founder steps down after decades of building a flourishing company); a positive event after previous hardship (e.g., after battling a life-threatening disease, the student graduates with his classmates); identification and inclusion (e.g., when you deeply identify with another person, group of people, or even everyone; or when you feel included by a group of people, because you share important qualities and experiences); or fusion (e.g., when something makes you feel in fusion with other people, nature, the world, etc.; “We are all one”). It can be evoked by real events, as well as by art and narratives.
When you feel moved, you perceive the world as more beautiful or meaningful. You take pause, stand still for a moment, and breathe more slowly and deeply. Although most people describe the experience as positive overall, there are aspects of being moved that seem to pertain to negative emotions: you may sigh, and tears may well up, which is normally associated with sadness. Indeed, many elicitors of being moved contain something negative or bittersweet (previous hardship, separation, shared suffering, etc.).
Some scholars associate the state of being moved with a broad category of other emotions included in this typology, such as elevation (touched by a good deed), awe (touched by a magnificent view) or gratitude (touched by a very nice gesture). Here, we frame it more specifically.
The emotion of being moved has an important function in bonding, one-to-one relationships, and group belonging. It makes you feel closer to a person, a group of people, or the whole world/universe. It helps you realize how special something (a moment, a relationship, an achievement) is, and motivates you to showcase and celebrate certain values and ideals that you and/or a group of people possess.
Feeling moved is a common emotion in the arts, especially narrative arts like books or films. At the same time, sentimentality/‘feel-good’ has a negative connotation: it is often associated with emotionality and weakness, to which certain people (e.g., men) should not succumb; or with ‘emotional manipulation’ when something is designed to play into your emotion. In entertainment, specific genres arose that build on moving the audience, known as ‘melodrama’, ‘tearjerkers’, ‘weepies’, ‘soap operas’, or ‘chick flicks’. In their publications, Tan & Frijda (1999)1 and Fiske et al. (2017)2 provided many examples of being moved in the arts.