Have you ever been felt down about something and had someone say to you ‘just think positive!’? I know I have. And here’s what immediately comes to mind: “Easy for you to say. You aren’t going through this!’ I think all of us have experienced this scenario at least once and, maybe because of that, tend to discount the power of positive emotions, dismissing them as some sort of “pie in the sky’’ solution that doesn’t really work.
But let’s go beneath the surface and get a deeper look at positive emotions and some of the really fascinating research that’s being done in this area, and see how you might go about applying this to your life. Harnessing the power of positive emotions is really at the heart of the relatively new science of positive psychology, founded by Dr. Martin Seligman and others back in the 1990’s. Traditionally, psychology focused on dysfunction, negative thinking, and mental illness and its treatment. The new domain of positive psychology focuses on exactly the opposite: human happiness, flourishing, and how to achieve a meaningful and fulfilled life.
The Broaden and Build Theory
As the field has matured, one of the researchers who has greatly influenced my work in positive psychology coaching [link to positive psychology coaching article here] is Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D. who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Frederickson is most well known for her ‘broaden and build’ hypothesis, which theorizes that experiencing positive emotions (such as interest or joy) tends to open up your awareness and enable you to build new skills and resources. This is in stark contrast to the negative emotions (such as fear or sadness) that tend to narrow or restrict behavior.
In addition to Dr. Frederickson’s many academic papers, she has also authored several books on positive emotions for the layperson, including Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection and Positivity: Top Notch Research Reveals The Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life. [Amazon link here] In her book Positivity, [Amazon link here] Dr. Frederickson reveals ten positive emotions that she believes, if leveraged in the right way, can make the difference between simply languishing and flourishing in life. A pretty bold claim indeed!
The Ten Positive Keys
Let’s get a brief introduction to these ten key positive emotions and, next time, I’ll focus on how to experience more of these in your life and also talk about what Dr. Fredrickson calls the ‘positivity ratio’…the magic ratio of positive thoughts to negative thoughts that will push you over the tipping point toward flourishing. Here are the ten key positive emotions and how to recognize them:
One – Joy
Joy arises when something good happens in your life that you don’t really expect, or when you receive good news, such as when you find out you are going to be a parent or grandparent, for example.
Two – Gratitude
You feel gratitude when you acknowledge another person or, for some people, the Divine, as the source of something good in your life.
Three – Serenity
This positive emotion is also known as contentment and is felt when you are in a situation or circumstance that just feels completely right or satisfying.
Four – Interest
You feel interest when you come across something that is mysterious, challenging or novel, but are in a safe environment in which to explore it.
Five – Hope
While the other positive emotions arise from safe circumstances, hope is the exception. Hope can come even in dire circumstances, and you can see or feel even a glimmer that things may get better.
Six – Pride
Even though you most likely have been cautioned that pride goes before a fall, healthy pride is felt when you accomplish something that is socially valued and you take appropriate credit for it.
Seven – Amusement
Amusement is an interesting emotion, occurring when something non-serious happens that is incongruous with the situation, just as a physical blunder or slip of the tongue.
Eight – Inspiration
Witnessing human excellence in action can be inspiring, and may very well inspire you to excel yourself. Athletic events such as the Olympics offer us an opportunity to observe human excellence and experience this kind of inspiration.
Nine – Awe
The positive emotion of awe occurs, as Barbara Fredrickson puts it, when you ‘encounter goodness on a grand scale.’ Observing something that is larger than life and beautiful or powerful can inspire awe.
Ten – Love
This is the positive emotion people tend to feel most often. A complex emotion, love is a melding of many other positive emotions and is usually felt in the context of an interpersonal relationship.
So there you have them – ten key positive emotions that can lead you on an upward spiral to living a more fulfilled and meaningful life. Next time I’ll discuss how to leverage these emotions with that goal in mind as our positive emotions journey continues!
Has one of these positive emotions made a significant difference in your life? I love to hear from you, so leave a comment on my blog and I’ll be sure to answer.