Mood: being attuned to the world

Moods are real and observable. Mood is also an important ontological phenomenon. If we ignore moods or treat them as mere psychological emotions or physiological sensations we miss the profound impact they have for human existence.

There is a way-of-being we have as human beings, that makes it possible for us to “be in a mood” or “have a mood”. This possibility of being in a mood, is a structural component of our existence. Disposedness is one of the three constituent structures or ways-of-being we ‘are’, existing as the “there“, the clearing of being in the world which we be there.

About the word

Heidegger’s invented German word for this phenomenon is “Befindlichkeit”. This might be a modification of the common German greeting: “Wie befinden Sie sich?”, literally, “How do you find your self?” or “How are you doing?”.  But it also intends in the literal sense a discovering yourself through the mood you have.

The M&R translation translates it as “state-of-mind” (which is very misleading); other writers use disposedness; I like “attunement”. The word “mood” itself might make do if we interpret it as “that which makes possible the having a mood.” Formally we could say that attunement or disposedness is the ‘ontological condition for the possibility of ontic mood.’ Aristotle talks about mood (as pathos) in the rhetoric.

We use the word mood in a broader sense, than “moodiness”. We use it to include awe, “being in love”, boredom, and even the “moods” of rigorous scientific observation. Being and Time addresses fear and anxiety; the Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics focuses on boredom.

Part of who we are

In every moment we find ourselves already in a mood, and in a very real sense that mood gives us “who we are” in that moment. In each moment, we “find ourselves” by way of already having a mood. Our current mood is one of the constituents of the clearing in which things to show up for us in the ‘there’ and matter in a particular way.

In the mood anger, things that are “WRONG!” show up. When I am grumpy,annoying things show up. When I am impatient, obstructions show up. The mood I am in these cases has what shows up as mattering to me in a particular way.

Each also mood has its own manner of understanding and interpreting. You can see this by noticing how we characterize what shows up when we are in a mood (as wrong, as annoying.) Of course, moods can be also analyzed by physiological, psychological, and even sociological attributes, but here we are interested in their ontological aspects. We are investigating “how we be what we are”; and mood/disposedness/attunement are part of us.

Moods determine what shows up and how it matters

Ontologically moods are significant because they determine, in part, what shows up for us: ‘what is there’. They provide an openness for things to show up. This also includes how I show up for myself as a person.

In our attunement with the world, as the strings of an instrument, we resonate with the world. In each ringing note of mood, things can show up. For example: After shopping, I am impatiently waiting to check out. What shows up for me is ‘a lady’s basket with 17 items in the express line.’ Impatience is an ‘opening’ for a violation of the ’10 items of less’ rule to show up. Her violation matters to me.

Moods can be given to us by things in the world. For example: Walking down a dark lonely street, footsteps behind us can awaken fear.  The footsteps show up in the resonance of fear. Fear defines for me how the footsteps matter. Fear becomes my predominant mood, and now startling events are likely to show up, that without the mood of fear would go unnoticed.

Moods and others

We are expected to master our moods, and develop socially appropriate expressions and interpretations. But notice that moods are altered only by replacing them with another mood. (“Don’t be sad, be happy!”) We are never without some mood, although many common ways we are disposed in the world don’t have names. They are not ordinarily characterized as moods. For example in some companies there is an “end of the quarter” mood. There is even a mood of no particular concern, just ‘hanging out’ at the mall, in a sort of idle curiosity. We can become so used to such typical moods that we rarely notice them explicitly and casually accommodate ourselves to them.

One of the moods we rarely notice is the mood that goes with “just looking”, the mood of holding back our normal concern. In the case of the shopping cart violation I can shift my mood to one of just “looking at” the facts of the case, by “holding back my concern”, and noticing that my impatience is the opening which allows the violation to show up.

Societies train their members to meet the cultural expectations for managing moods and cultures implement practices to enforce these standards. Like moods themselves, these enforcement mechanisms are often transparent unless they are violated. Which moods are available, and the appropriate modes of expression are defined by the public “They”.

Experiment: Try to yell angrily in church. Unless you are standing in the pulpit, you will probably find it somewhat uncomfortable.

Disposedness is a public phenomenon

Mood is not a private phenomenon. Being in a shared world with others, the mood we bring and our responsiveness to mood of the people we are with, determines what can show up for us and how it matters in our relationships, organizations, and societies.

Mostly, unless we are out of tune with others, our mood is not explicitly noticed, and we transparently adapt to the mood around us. The mood of a culture, subculture, or even an epoch in time, is often transparent to itself, although it can often be identified by outsiders or a coach. Moods are powerful as well as transparent. The transparency and force of mood is a component of the ‘real dictatorship of the “they”.’ [H126]  In any particular environment, there is one or a few, predominant moods (fear, anger, optimism, etc.), although other moods will rise and fall in influence. Sometimes the point of music and poetry is solely to evoke moods, but we all have some expertise to evoke moods by other means (stroking and poking).

Western culture has its predominant moods. An external observer might characterize one of these moods as ‘greedy’ (a driven concern for identifying and exploiting available resources: oil, time, land, and even people.)


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