Emotion

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Britain: A nation of emotion?
A research report commissioned by Kleenex®

Introduction

Following The Kleenex® For Men Crying Game Report (2004) which highlighted the changing attitudes of Britons towards male tears, Kleenex® have again commissioned the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) to investigate the broader emotional terrain of the nation to ask: 'What is the emotional state of the nation?'

Brits have an intriguing relationship with their own and other people's emotions. On the one hand we seem to be masters at over-regulating our emotions. We are not overly demonstrative in the stereotypical manner of the Italians, Spanish or Americans — wearing their passions on their sleeves, sometimes with little regard for the feelings of others. We rather look down on gushing public displays of emotion. In times of crisis we invoke the 'Blitz spirit', uniting in the face of adversity with reserve, stoicism, and the stiff upper lip. Perhaps only the Japanese beat us in the 'hide how you really feel' stakes.

Yet public displays of emotion (think of sporting triumphs such as the Ashes and recent Ryder Cup, Diana's death etc.) attract swathes of media commentary and brow beating over whether these tears of joy, pride or grief, should, at the end of the day, be kept private. The recent Stephen Frears film The Queen sees Helen Mirren as the eponymous Queen responding to calls from the Prime Minister to return to London from Balmoral in the wake of the public outpouring of emotion following Diana's death. She stiffly suggests that the British public should deal with their grief privately, with the 'quiet dignity' for which the country is known. Interestingly, the only occasion on which the Queen has cried publically was on the decommissioning of the royal yacht Britannia.

More recently, reality TV has bought us the weekly torrent of tears of joy and sadness on the X-Factor and a summer of Big Brother, where contestants seemed all too willing to 'let it out' on national television at any opportunity. What's going on?

Public displays of emotion in Britain attract media commentary and brow beating over whether we should in fact keep it all bottled up. Yet at the other extreme we have the current weekly torrent of tears of joy and sadness on the X-Factor. What's going on?

We have become, perhaps, a little confused about the rules. Is being 'emotionally constipated' a sign of social inadequacy? Are we still a nation of Eeyores, the gloomy old donkey in Winnie the Pooh — good moaners but poor emoters? Or are we more like up-beat Tiggers — bounding about with our hearts on our sleeves?

Are we still bound by social display rules which mean that reserve and the archetypal 'stiff upper lip' are, in all but special cases (the intimate contexts of close family and friends, the office Christmas party, occasions of national sporting success, a reality TV programme) still the order of the day?

Are we continuing to ignore recent research which suggests that expressing emotions more freely results in improved well-being and that 'emotional intelligence' plays an integral role in our rational decision making? What evidence is there that expressing our emotions actually makes us physically healthier?

Are Briton's better able to 'Let it Out' in 2006 than ever before? Is it now okay to 'emote' (to express our emotions) freely, show our vulnerability and embrace the supposedly cathartic effects of letting ourselves and others know how we 'really feel'? Or are we Brits still a little too good at keeping our emotions in check? Might it be better for us, our relationships, our health and the emotional state of the nation, to let it out a little more often? When is it better out than in? When is it okay to 'Let it Out'? What can we do to experience the 'rush of release' more often?

Kleenex® commissioned SIRC to find out. We explored the issues in depth in a series of focus groups and interviews with carefully selected participants. And we also conducted a nationally representative YouGov poll of just over 2,500 British adults. The results of our research reveal a complex picture of the emotional 'health' of the nation.


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