Moving from surviving to thriving with what I’ve learned in positive psychology.
I’ve recently been taking a course on positive psychology out of personal interest. In this course, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson gave a lecture on 10 positive emotions. Honestly, before the lecture I tried to name 10 positive emotions and it was surprisingly difficult! Happiness, joy, but what else? What comes to mind for you?
And the fact that this was difficult for me (and maybe for you as well) isn’t so shocking. As humans, we have a negativity bias. And while focusing on the negative things might have helped us during our hunter-gatherer days, I, for one, would like to counteract this adaptation slightly. As the saying goes, negative emotions help you survive, positive emotions help you thrive. I am definitely ready to thrive – so let’s switch the narrative from the negative emotions that are always demanding our attention, and focus on positive!
So let’s start by naming these 10 positive emotions, beyond happiness:
The emotion that is closest to happiness. It comes with a tendency to play and learn. I am trying to find more joy in my life currently. Signing up for aerial yoga again has really helped with creating joy and I find it to be so playful!
While a “quieter” emotion, this one is deeply linked to social connection and inspiration to give back. I practice cultivating this emotion by writing down three things I am grateful for every day.
Serenity is a feeling of contentment, like you want your current circumstances to continue on forever. This is an emotion I rarely hear or think about, and that saddens me! I would love to have more serenity in my life, but I tend to associate it with Buddhist monks.
This emotions combines a certain amount of safety and novelty in exploration, like just slightly being out of your comfort zone. It is almost a mysterious force that draws you in. Interest is what brought me to this course on positive psychology.
Fearing the worst, but yearning for better. Hope is linked with resilience and inventiveness. Paradoxically, hope occurs in situations that are not positive. In our current 2020 landscape, I think we could all use some more hope.
This emotion also centers around social togetherness in that you or some one you care for has done something that is valued in our society. When experiencing hope, people often come together and dream of the next thing that can be achieved.
Amusement comes from a non-serious mishap that often leads to shared laughter and connection.
As Dr. Fredrickson put it, inspiration is seeing human excellence on display. This emotion drives motivation to gain new skills and morality. Who inspires you? I’ve recently been deeply inspired by the folx in the front lines of our social change movements.
Another “quiet” emotion that is like being in the presence of greatness on a large scale. While similar to inspiration, awe is more personal and is linked to seeing ourselves as a small piece of a larger puzzle. This is another emotion that I rarely notice myself having, except for in the presence of nature (the Swiss Alps – read about my experience here – and hiking in Sweden’s arctic circle being two times that readily come to mind).
And I am not alone in rarely feeling awe. These emotions are actually listed in the order of their frequency in people’s daily lives – with awe being the last. This does makes me think that I am doing something wrong when it comes to serenity…
But there is one final emotion to mention here! And actually, it is ranked the most frequently experienced emotion daily, even above joy:
Ah, the king of all positive emotions. Love is an emotion that is hard to define, but is known in feeling. Love is often a combination of many of the other emotions mentioned here, such as awe at holding your new child for the first time, gratitude for the support of a dear friend, and the joy you experience when in the presence of your partner.
So while our negativity bias is always present, it is important to remember (especially in these times) that we can combat this by taking notice of the positive emotions we also feel. In fact, positivity offset states that positive experiences are actually more frequent than negative ones! It just doesn’t always seem that way because the negative emotions are so much “louder”.
There aren’t many things I can control in my life (and 2020 is working overtime to double down on that claim), but I do have control over my attention and my reactions.
Going forward, I will focus more on my positive emotions. I will take notice of them. I will savor them. And research shows that this has really powerful effects. As Dr. Fredrickson notes:
Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness, suggests that pausing to let good events sink in for ten to twenty seconds allows them to become part of you. And this habit can rewire your brain to create a lasting positive psychology inside of you. And this is a simple shift in mindset that you can start right now.
So taking notice of the positive emotions I am already experiencing is one step. But it is hard to even feel positive feelings when a sneeze strikes fear, sirens are sounding out the window, and I am still unemployed. With that in mind, and being realistic about the current climate I am in (one that isn’t readily lending itself to positivity), I will work to better cultivate settings where positive emotions can flourish.
Maybe I can find serenity if I seek out a place where I can listen to the birds chirp? Maybe I can find amusement by watching a cute baby video online? Maybe I can do more to express and spread love?
It is time for me to put more effort into cultivating settings where positive emotions can flourish, and to take more notice of those positive emotions when they do surface. Join me on that journey here.
P.S. What do you think about these positive emotions? Which do you notice often? Which would you like to cultivate more of? How do you plan to do that? Let us know in the comments below.