You feel worship for someone (or something) so special to you, that all you want is to get close to them or occupy yourself with them. For example, if you are a devoted fan of a singer and all you want to do is watch them, read about them, and go to their concerts. Or in a religious sense, when you feel deep reverence for a deity and want to put your life in service of them. People can also feel worship for non-persons, such as sports teams.
We worship those who we perceive as ‘meaning-makers’, those who bring significant meaning to our lives. We perceive the other person as vastly superior, superhuman or sacred, and we would gladly give ourselves over to them1.
Worship is a ‘follower emotion’. You trust another entity with your wellbeing because you believe they will take good care of you. You may also try to imitate them (mimicry), become a part of their world, or establish a parasocial* relationship.
*Parasocial relationships are one-sided relationships, where one person extends emotional energy, interest and time, and the other party is completely unaware of their existence.
Although most people will probably experience this emotion in some form during their life (for example, in their teenage years), worship is an emotion that people do not have towards many others. Some people seem more inclined to experiencing this emotion than others, and some may not experience it at all. It is most common in religious and spiritual settings.
Worship does not induce an immediate urge to pursue your own goals, but rather has more long-term adaptive benefits2. It motivates people to adhere to the teachings and expectations of a meaning-maker, thus promoting individual learning and change1). The worshiped is considered a benefactor with the power to unite a community in pursuit of shared ideals and values2).
The function of this emotion is not entirely clear, but it may represent an extreme form of identity building. It can have positive effects, such as providing meaning and purpose to life and acting as a platform for community building (through a shared worship). But effects can also be negative if worship comes at the cost of the individual’s wellbeing; for example, when the individual develops irresponsible behaviour in the adoration of their subject of worship, or when the subject of worship takes advantage of them.
Admiration and worship are adjacent emotions that overlap, but also have clear differences. In the simplest sense, worship is much stronger than admiration, although you can also deeply admire a person. Moreover, when you admire somebody, you want to be like the other person; whereas in worship, you know that is not possible, so you strive to at least associate with the person and ‘bask in the glory of their presence’2. Furthermore, admiration is directed towards certain attributes of a person, whereas worship responds to the goodness of the entire person1.