Emotions

Emotions are part of being human. Feelings, thoughts and behaviours are all intertwined with the emotions we have – triggered by a specific event or person in the past, present or future.

The same event or person can affect you in a different way than it would someone else – although we may share common responses to the high and low points in our lives – our emotions are individual to us and impact our well-being differently.

What’s the point of emotions?

Whether we categorise emotions under one overarching umbrella or try to separate them into ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ emotions – they all have a purpose. As a reaction to an event or person, they influence what we think about and the actions we engage with. Multiple emotions can co-exist and it’s not impossible to feel e.g. angry and grateful or fear and joy at the same time. Each has their reason for occurring.

As a species we have a history of paying more attention to the negative around us due to the need for survival – this is known as negativity bias. While we no longer have the same immediate threats to our safety, this cognitive trait prevails and can affect many things such as our feelings of self-efficacy, interactions with others and what we pay attention to in daily life.

Positive Emotions

Research suggests that experiencing positive emotions are both an indication of health and well-being AND produce well-being.  Desirable effects can include:

  • Increased connection with others
  • Better close personal relationships
  • Empathy
  • Higher life satisfaction
  • Improved resilience
  • Decreased anxiety and depression

Experiencing regular positive emotions can create what Fredrickson & Joiner (2002; 2018) call ‘upward spirals’ – psychological processes that make us more engaged with the activity that created them, as well as becoming more conscious of other good moments and connections in our day/life. These impact on our thoughts and behaviour towards both ourselves and others and ultimately help to strengthen our well-being, creating personal and collective benefits.

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Taken from: Fredrickson & Joiner, 2018

With this knowledge, finding ways to increase our experience of positive emotions can be a proactive way of building our personal resilience and improving our overall well-being. Making the conscious choice to participate in activities designed to increase experiences of positive emotions, meaning in life and engagement is one way to do this. These are known as Positive Psychology Interventions (PPIs) which you can read more about in this past post.

Central PPI Themes Include

  • Gratitude
  • Kindness
  • Savouring
  • Mindfulness
  • Optimism
  • Personal strengths

PPIs are usually simple to follow, can be self-administered and are brief. Some of the most important things to consider when choosing a PPI to engage with include whether the activity appeals to you and is designed to target an area you’re interested in changing. The Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic test taken from Lyubomirsky’s book ‘The How of Happiness’ is a useful tool (I’ve now found a link that does the Maths for you!) – however just looking through interventions and deciding what appeals yourself may be equally as valuable.

You’re probably more likely to stick with an intervention that you find enjoyable than one you don’t. In addition, choosing a variety to engage with at different times or adding a social element to the practice and doing it with a friend may work better for you. Whatever works, stick with it and be open to revisiting the activity in the future as well as trying something new. The more tools we have to build our resilience and experience of positive emotions the bigger our skill set grows.

Of course, sustainable change to our thoughts and behaviours takes determination, time and commitment – training the mind is much like training the rest of your body. After months or years of indulgence and little in the way of fitness we don’t expect miracles from a week of healthy eating/exercise. Nor should we expect a magic wand in the form of PPIs. While an immediate boost to your well-being may be felt, you’ll have to make an ongoing conscious effort to reap the rewards of lasting change.

In short, all emotions are valuable and occur for a reason. They are personal to us as individuals and, while often short lived, they should be recognised and valued. Positive emotions such as joy, amusement, hope, gratitude etc. can be more desirable to experience and research suggests that they can offer social, psychological and physiological benefits.

Therefore, building your skill set (your awareness of and ability to experience positive emotions) can increase your personal resilience and have a strong impact on your well-being. PPIs are an evidence-based way to proactively do this and offer concrete exercises designed to increase positive affect, meaning in life and engagement. They are a useful addition to your personal well-being toolkit.

Further Reading

Fredrickson, B. L., & Joiner, T. (2002). Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being. Psychological science13(2), 172-175.

Fredrickson, B. L., & Joiner, T. (2018). Reflections on positive emotions and upward spirals. Perspectives on Psychological Science13(2), 194-199.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. Penguin.

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