Emotions can be hard to communicate. The ability to do so is a key part of healthy personal and work relationships. And of our own health.

An article in The Atlantic pointed to studies showing that when we express our emotions we can reduce stress, and even improve the outcomes of certain illnesses. One study, of people who reached age 100, found that they shared two important traits. They had a positive outlook towards life, and didn’t bottle up emotions.

Another study from UCLA used brain imaging with a group of volunteers to reveal that labelling an emotion reduced the response in the amygdala. Verbalizing feelings made sadness, anger and pain less intense.

Which is one reason why anything that makes it easier to convey emotions is a good thing. Like the modern hieroglyphics that are emojis.

Get ready for the emoji 12.0 set

The Unicode Consortium, which is charged with coming up with the characters, just released the emoji 12.0 set for 2019. It includes 230 additions. Different platforms will determine which to employ.

Emojipedia, which documents the meaning and usage of emojis, says that prior to 12.0 Unicode had approved 2,823 emojis. Last summer, Emojipedia reported that over 700 million emojis are used every day in Facebook posts alone. Over 900 million emojis are sent daily without any text on Messenger.

The most-used emoji? Face with tears of joy (which Oxford Dictionaries once named its “word” of the year).

You can check real-time use on iOS at emojistats.org. When I last checked, the number was north of 1.8 billion.

What will you be able to express with the 12.0 set? The biggest chunk of the newcomers depicts couples (of all kinds) holding hands, with many more skin tone options.

There are also new emojis related to accessibility – a mechanical arm, mechanical leg, ear with a hearing aid, a guide dog, men and women with a probing cane, and people in motorized or manual wheelchairs.

New animals include the otter, orangutan, flamingo, skunk and sloth. And among the new foods are garlic, onion, waffle, butter, and falafel.

Combine some of the new emojis, and you can tell a story. Like the axe, drop of blood and adhesive bandage. Other additions show objects related to activities in the air (parachute, kite), on the ground (ballet shoes, banjo) and under the sea (diving mask).

A new vocabulary of feelings

More and more academic research is focusing on the power of emojis. Wired reported on gatherings like the International Workshop on Emoji Understanding and Applications in Social Media, and EmojiCon. There are real debates about whether the emoji icons are a language, and what they mean to language.

What seems undeniable is that emojis allow us to communicate our emotions quickly and easily, sometimes more so than we can do face-to-face. Maybe in a meaningful way too.

Writing for Psychology Today, psychoanalyst Alizah Lowell says emojis can “telegraph an easily identified thought or feeling…[and] help us to add tone and clarity to our communication.”

While some might argue that emojis are no substitute for the real deal, Lowell suggests that they often perform a distinct function. Emojis can be a more comfortable way to articulate, a starting point to explore feelings. “Yes, they are cute and fun, but they also improve our capacity to make our intended meaning known,” writes Lowell.

A piece in The Independent in the U.K. said that “At their most highbrow, emojis can be seen as metalanguage signals and emotional framing.”

Which is a fancy way of saying if you can’t express yourselves with words or gestures, do it with an emoji.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxmanconnect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at foxmancommunications.com. I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, etc., etc.

March 13, 2019

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