How Positive Emotions Can Change Your Life

What do upliftings feelings contribute to our general well-being? A whole lot.

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Posted in , Jul 5, 2018

Positive woman

I tend to shy away from describing emotions in “black or white,” “good or bad” language. Living an authentic emotional life means that all our feelings are important parts of our whole selves—and walking a positive path means keeping all our emotions in healthy proportion to one another.

But when I have a tough day, I often feel hyper-aware of the “negative” emotions that seem to be swirling through my bloodstream. Anger, fear, sadness, frustration—even though these are parts of me, they are uncomfortable.

Challenging as they may be, I know those feelings serve a purpose—through the fight-or-flight reaction, for example, human beings have been able to survive and evolve. 

What about the “positive” emotions, though? Other than feeling good, what purpose do joy, excitement or amusement serve in our daily lives?

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill psychology professor Barbara Fredrickson, who specializes in positive psychology, has a theory she calls “broaden and build” to answer this question. Her research suggests that positive emotions don’t just make a given day feel better, they are integral parts of healthy emotional life.

Positive emotions broaden our outlook on the world, first and foremost. The more joy and contentment we experience on a regular basis, the freer we are to notice the positive aspects of our lives and seize opportunities to increase our happiness.

They also build new skills, which serve us when those more challenging emotions come calling. Fredrickson’s research found, for example, that people who were shown films that inspired feelings of amusement and happiness were more creative and inventive in a problem-solving challenge they were given. 

In her 2009 book, Positivity, Fredrickson coined the term “upward spiral” to describe the impact positive emotions have on our overall well-being. Like their downward cousins, upward spirals propel our moods in a particular direction.

The lesson is this: The more positive emotions you can access in your daily life, the more your body and mind will grow accustomed to this upward spiral.

What can you do today to broaden and build your mood?

In 2001, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I wasn’t a good candidate for chemo. I took tamoxifen instead and gave my trouble to God—just as Dr. Peale suggested in his book, "Thought Conditioners". Since then I’ve remained cancer free. -Guideposts Magazine reader

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