Lesson idea: Negative vs Positive Emotions

The content below is taken from the Learning Library at IPEN and is by Emily Larson (Director). It is the first of four interlinked lesson ideas I will be posting, which focus on raising awareness of how our emotions impact us and the importance of developing emotional intelligence amongst children.  IPEN’s Learning Library has many free resources available to print or download, it’s a useful resource bank to add to your teaching toolkit.


Negative vs Positive Emotions


To understand the difference between positive and negative emotions


Teacher explanation: I want you to close your eyes and to imagine the last time you felt really angry. Really allow yourself to go back to the moment; think about who you were with, how you felt, what happened. (Allow to sit for 2 minutes) How did you feel remembering this moment? Now I want you to close your eyes once more and this time remember the last time you felt really happy. Again, relive the moment; think about where you were, who you were with, and how you felt. (Allow to sit for 2 minutes) What did you feel this time?

Implementation note: Write down on the board what the students felt when they were angry and happy into two lists. Our ancestors used to live in constant danger for their lives. They lived in a time where there were tigers roaming around and they had to be on alert all the time. Our emotions help us to act – negative emotions helps us to narrow our attention, focus on the present danger and to react quickly. For example, if you saw a tiger, you would feel fear that would enable you to run and survive. This is a great thing and was very important for our ancestors to survive. Because of the evolutionary advantage of negative emotions, our brains are hardwired to notice the negative and pay more attention to it. However, we now live in a world where danger is not as eminent – there aren’t tigers roaming around in our house. So we need to retrain our brains to pay more attention to those positive emotions. Positive emotions open us up to the World, allow us to connect with those around us. Imagine your attention is like a flashlight and your emotions provide the lens. When you feel a negative emotion like anxiety, stress, fear, sadness, our light becomes narrow and focuses our attention on the dust in the corner of the room. Our positive emotions, love, joy, gratitude, awe, broaden our light and allow us to see the whole room. So we can still see the dust in the corner, but we can also see the plant in the room and our friends standing next to us. Ask the class why is this important? Not only do positive emotions help us connect with others, learn better, and to have higher well-being – they also contribute to our ability to be resilient. Resiliency is something that allows us to bounce back when bad things happen. People who are more resilient do better when they face hardship. Imagine your well-being or happiness as a piggy bank. Each time you feel a positive emotion (a coin) your piggy bank (happiness) goes up. So in the moment, you feel happier. In addition to this, we can store our positive emotions (coins) in our resiliency reserve. So the more positive emotions we feel, the more resilient we are when something goes wrong.

Class Activity: I want you to practice savoring your past positive emotions. Write 1 page about a time you felt really happy, go into detail and try to relive the moment as much as possible.


Positive and negative emotions are both important to our well-being and overall happiness. Researcher Barbra Fredrickson (1998) was one of the pioneers in studying positive emotions affect on our attention, health, and overall well-being. Her research found that positive emotions open us up to the World by broadening our awareness and attention, while negative emotions narrow our focus. Positive emotions also play a role in helping us become more resilient during times of hardship. By understanding how to cultivate more positive emotions, we can not only increase our well-being but also bounce back quicker from adversity. Research: The negativity bias was conceptualized by Roy Baumiester in 2001. He uncovered that people feel negative emotions stronger than they feel positive emotions because of the way our brains have evolved. Positive emotions have been linked to: -Broaden peoples thoughts and actions that come to mind (Fredrickson, 1998; Fredrickson & Branigan, 2001)-Decreasing racial biases (Johnson & Fredrickson, 2005)-Broadens thought and opens us up (Fredrickson & Branigan, 2000)-Allows for more creative thinking (Isen, Daubman, & Nowicki, 1987)-Enhance greater well-being (Fredrickson & Joiner, 2000). Joy = play and creativity (Ellsworth & Smith, 1988; Frijda, 1986). Interest = urge to explore, take in new information, expand self (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; Izard, 1977; Ryan & Deci, 2000;Tomkins, 1962). Contentment = savor life (Izard, 1977) Pride = sharing news and imagining greater achievements (Lewis, 1993). Love = promotes connecting with others (Izard, 1977)

Published by Improve My Well-being

Laura is an experienced mentor and teacher, with a MSc Applied Positive Psychology (Distinction). She enjoys living and working in multicultural environments and is passionate about promoting social well-being. Blogging is her outlet to share and explore well-being initiatives and practices with as many people as possible.

2 thoughts on “Lesson idea: Negative vs Positive Emotions

  1. Lovely post and approaches for the classroom or for parents to practice with their children. There would be a lot of benefit to be gained from time given in school to developing emotional intelligence.

    Liked by 1 person

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