What is Elevation?

Watch this video before you read about elevation:

The technical definition

Elevation is the positive feeling experienced after seeing an act of virtue or human moral beauty. Jonathan Haidt, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, has dedicated his career to studying elevation. According to Haidt, the event that triggers the emotional response is called the elicitor. The elevation response, often warmth in the chest and a lump in the throat, is considered an emotion. Elevation is not new, but it has recently been acknowledged as a distinct emotional state. It is the positive opposite to the emotion of disgust.

Huh, what does that mean?

You have probably already experienced elevation at some point in your life, but you likely did not know what it was. View the video again, and pay attention to the way it makes you feel. Did your eyes tear up a bit? Did you feel a little bit choked up? Did you get a warm sensation in your chest? Maybe you even felt like it was time for you to do something for someone else. These are the physiological responses that characterize elevation. Even though you do not know Jason McElwain or the other players on that team, you had an emotional response to the story.

Interestingly, elevation seems to occur when we witness acts people perform towards other people. It is a social emotion, one that Haidt believes comes from our intrinsic desire to be part of a social group. Those who experience elevation usually report a desire in their own lives to help others. The emotion is something we wish to spread.

Elevation is a powerful emotion. It can eliminate feelings of cynicism and disgust and replace those with love, hope, and optimism. By eliciting elevation in others, you can help them have a less cynical outlook on their lives, and prompt them to take steps to live a more successful life.

How do I use this in my life?

Do you face situations where you can help others? What is holding you back? Remember, the emotion of elevation is one that people want to spread. If others observe you performing social acts of kindness, they are going to be uplifted and want to duplicate your actions. In this way, by helping one person, you could help hundreds more through the ongoing response to your one action.

What does this mean for you as a parent? If you can create elevation in your children, you can open their minds and hearts to new behavior and possibilities. Your actions towards others can be replicated in your children.

You likely have a goal of developing your children into compassionate, caring adults who take the time to help others. All of the rhetoric in the world is not going to do this, but if you give your children a few opportunities to see you helping others, allowing them to experience the feeling of elevation, you could inspire them to do great things on their own someday.


Haidt, J. (2003). Elevation and the positive psychology of morality. In C. L. M. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.) Flourishing: Positive psychology and the life well-lived. Washington DC : American Psychological Association. (pp. 275-289). 

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