Capturing Life’s Ups and Downs in Data Mood Journals

Every week, I collect a set of personal data and visualize them as part of my data journaling  practice. It has helped me begin to notice things I never did before, as I discover little surprises and overlooked aspects of life that fill me with appreciation and gratitude for each moment. 

Emotion is one of the introspective points that I’ve documented, with the intent to be more in tune with my own feelings and getting to know myself better.

We encounter countless emotions every day — some bold and striking, others subtle and elusive. Because they’re so intangible and leave traces of unpredictable patterns in the data set, visualizing emotions offers a fascinating challenge. Drawing these very human artifacts of our daily existence push me to think out of the box, exploring creative ways to represent them visually.

Here are a few examples of my emotion data sketches.

A Week of Mood

Over the course of a week, I diligently recorded my mood fluctuations, then turned the feelings into donuts, a personal symbol of happiness. I assigned flavors I enjoy to positive moods and my less preferred ones to negative moods. While the scale is subjective, I tried to use my average emotional state as a benchmark.

I found out that my mood is usually low (i.e. incredibly grumpy) at the start of the week, then improves by the weekend. This is all within expectations, but observing it closely helped me identify what was driving my mood swings.

Associating my bad mood to a donut flavor that I dislike made me want to toss it quicker. Guess that’s one way to feel better, right?

Data visualization represents a week of moods. Donuts make a bar chart for each day of the week. For instance, Sunday has two glazed donuts above the x-axis. Monday has three cinnamon donuts below the x-axis.
Data visualization represents a week of moods. Each donut symbolizes a factor contributing to my emotional highs and lows. The cinnamon donuts below the weekday labels signify negative emotions, while the glazed donuts above indicate positive emotions.

A Week of Gratefulness

Here, I logged the moments when I felt grateful during a week of November. The moments were captured in three ways: writing, thinking, and speaking. As opposed to tracking gratitude in terms of writing and speaking, I probably missed many “thinking” moments as it’s much more fleeting.

This piece was inspired by the symbol of gratitude, a spiral that continues to move in a single direction indefinitely. It expresses eternal gratitude and appreciation.

Journaling about gratitude made me feel deeply appreciative of the people in my life and more optimistic about life in general.

A visualization showing a ring made of different colors, like a donut chart. The ring has labels such as "coworkers," "IT," "Customer support," "friends" and "family."
Data visualization represents a week of feeling grateful. Each segment of the ring indicates to whom I felt grateful. A solid color filling signifies that I expressed my gratitude verbally, a dashed line indicates I acknowledged my gratitude mentally, and slashes mean that I expressed my gratitude in writing.

A Week of Confidence

Confidence was up next. I’ve got to confess, I had a hard time filling this one up. There was only one instance when I felt confident to some extent, but not fully competent. My design this week is a mirror to that singular moment — like a tiny, twinkling star in my heart.

The results are unsurprising, because confidence is something I often struggle with. Even when I’m feeling certain about what I’m doing, I wouldn’t label that as “confidence,” since I can’t help but think there’s someone better out there. The whole “Fake It Till You Make It” mentality just doesn’t come naturally to me.

Initially, this data looked concerning. But truthfully, I found that it didn’t bother me as much as I initially thought. After all, humility is not a weakness; it encourages constant learning and exploration.

A singular star in yellow on black background.
Data visualization represents a week of feeling confident.

A Week of Fear/Worry/Anxiety

During one week in October, I turned my lens onto negative emotions: Fear, worry, and anxiety. Since it’s the spooky month, I decided to give this visualization a Halloween candy theme. 

Fear took on the form of candy corns, worry manifested itself as Halloween swirls, and anxiety appeared as traditional candy shapes. I divided the triggers of these emotions based on my control over them, with the left side of the page for aspects within my control, and the right side for those beyond it.

Looking at the pattern, there are a lot of uneasy feelings this week. However, when visualized as adorable candies, these negative emotions suddenly became less intimidating, and even too cute to cause any pessimism.

Ghosts, candy and a pumpkin on a yellow background. The left side is "things I can control" while the right side is "Things I cannot control." the number of candies on each side of the image is roughly the same.
Data visualization represents a week of fear, worry, and anxiety. Each candy symbolizes an incident that triggered these emotions. Candy corns represent fear, Halloween swirls represent worry, and traditional candy shapes signify anxiety. White and orange-colored candies indicate concerns about the past, while navy and orange-colored candies represent worries about the future.

A Week of Envy

Lastly, I tracked envy for a week. Living in a world that thrives on sharing personal life, it’s hard not to feel a tinge of the so-called “green-eyed monster.” I found myself curious about the triggers of this complex emotion. The design this week was inspired by the “envy apple,” a variety of apple that is mostly red with some yellow specks.

Each apple represents a moment of envy. The color spectrum from yellow to red reflects the intensity of envy, ranging from mild to intense. Different symbols denote various sources of envy: a leaf for skills, wings for freedom, and a sticker for wealth.

Three out of seven instances of envy were triggered while I was scrolling through social media, especially when I encountered posts of others traveling to places I wish to visit. I guess it’s true that jealousy spikes with our use of social media platforms. Perhaps it’s time to cut down on scrolling?

Seven apples, some with stickers on them, some with leaves on them. They range in color from yellow to orange to red.
Data visualization represents a week of envy. Each apple symbolizes a moment of envy. The color shifts from yellow to red to show envy’s intensity. A leaf means envy for skills, wings for freedom, and a sticker for wealth.

Through these experiments, I found data visualization to be incredibly powerful for self-discovery, enabling us to explore, understand, and navigate the complex world of emotions. Each visual diary serves as an intimate self-portrait, providing a window into one’s emotions at that particular time. 

Data journaling has offered me invaluable insights about myself, and I’m planning to continue sharing my journey of data humanism at @datasketchbook on Instagram. If you’re curious about your feelings, I hope this approach might help you unravel your emotional patterns and provide fresh perspectives of yourself. 

Xindeling Pan headshot
Xindeling Pan

Xindeling Pan is a product designer with a passion for revealing hidden everyday information through creative visualization and crafting non-fiction comics advocating for causes close to her heart.