Summary: It may be helpful to actively focus on positive emotions to generate happiness and be more effective.
- Paying attention to positive emotions and growing them tends to create more.
- Positive emotions such as hope, serenity, contentment and gratitude are associated with happiness, skill-building and social interaction.
Gratitude, joy, contentment…words we may hear frequently, but how often do we actively cultivate these positive emotions? There may be a tendency to believe they should simply arise on their own without any effort or intention. However, research has shown keeping a gratitude journal can increase happiness. Simply writing a number of things one is grateful for each day is one way of encouraging gratitude and therefore increases the chance of experiencing happiness.
Is it necessary to try to generate joy and contentment though? Probably so, says the field of positive psychology. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has been studying positive emotions for many years. She said, “When people increase their daily diets of positive emotions, they find more meaning and purpose in life. They also find that they receive more social support–or perhaps they just notice it more, because they’re more attuned to the give-and-take between people. They report fewer aches and pains, headaches, and other physical symptoms. They show mindful awareness of the present moment and increased positive relations with others. They feel more effective at what they do.” (Source: Leading Company)
Some of the other positive emotions are serenity, love, amusement and awe. By putting our attention on them, instead of on what has gone ‘wrong’ in our lives or work, we can begin to grow them. It appears happy people experience more positive emotions than negative ones in a proportion of at least three to one. For people who are thriving this ratio may be six to one. So, how do we begin to interact with positive emotions purposefully, in order to generate and maintain them?
One potential answer lies in the Broaden and Build theory, which holds that positive emotions are good for brain function and better behavior. In other words, positive emotions tend to create the kind of actions and social interactions that lead to more positive emotions in a cycle. They are directly linked to building skills, knowledge and social networks and these things all are tied to wellness and fulfillment. When positive emotions are present and active, according to the theory, a person may be more flexible in their thoughts and make better decisions.
For example, a person who repeatedly thinks and says he or she hates work, may be overlooking some of the positive benefits about it, such as receiving health insurance or saving money for a financial cushion. If the same person were to regularly keep a journal to document the gratitude and contentment associated with the job, there may be less desire to quit without a replacement lined up. Rash decisions such as this example too often result in emotional distress and financial difficulties.
Similarly, looking for the positive emotions in a trying work situation may also focus the mind on the things that are worthwhile about it and make the situation more tolerable. If you are interested in getting free feedback on your happiness, there is an app called the Happiness Tracker which is easy to use.
Image Credit: Public Domain, Wiki Commons