Based on Klaus Scherer’s position on the psychology of emotions, professor of psychology and director of the Swiss Center for Affective Sciences in Geneva, emotions are characteristic of short durations, while extended durations (often lasting hours or days) of are termed moods.
He states that moods are generally considered “diffuse affect states that are characterized by a relative enduring prominence of certain types of subjective feelings that affect the experience and behavior of an individual.”
Moods are typically of a low intensity and void of a specific focus, while emotions are typically high intensity with a specific focus. Based on years of my own psychical research initiatives, it appears that empaths are prone to “knowing or “simulating” the emotions of others, but not the moods of others, as this involves far more content than just emotions.
However, extended exposure to other sad individuals can result in affecting the mood of an empathist if they indulge in the momentary emotions of others consistently. In this case, such external sources of sadness can exacerbate existing sadness (within the empathist), which may or may not be known to the empath at the conscious level.
Another way to distinguish if a state is purely emotional or a mood is to clarify the state. If you feel sad with brief behaviors of withdrawal or feelings of powerlessness, then this is an emotion. However, if your feelings are better described as ‘depression’ and therefore posses a high degree of consistency, then it may just be your mood.
In summary, if the feelings are sporadic, with a more defined beginning and an end, and appear as spikes of high intensities, then it may be purely an emotion and could be coming from others, but if the feelings are diffuse with no high or lows, then this may just be your own mood.
- Scherer, K.R. (2005). What are Emotions? And How Can They be Measured? Social Science Information: Trends and Developments: Research on Emotions.