Positive emotions transform us for the better
Positive emotions open us and change our outlook.
How much positive emotion do we need?
Micro-moments of love.
"Among our birthrights as humans is the experience of the subtle and fleeting pleasant feelings of positivity. It comes in many forms and flavors. Think of the times you feel connected to others and loved; when you feel playful, creative, or silly; when you feel blessed and at one with your surroundings; when your soul is stirred by the sheer beauty of existence; or when you feel energized and excited by a new idea or hobby. Positivity reigns whenever positive emotions—like love, joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, and inspiration—touch and open your heart.”
- Barbara Fredrickson in Positivity
This article opens by noting that positive emotions do not fit existing models of emotions. Consequently, a new model is advanced to describe the form and function of a subset of positive emotions, including joy, interest, contentment, and love. This new model posits that these positive emotions serve to broaden an individual's momentary thought-action repertoire, which in turn has the effect of building that individual's physical, intellectual, and social resources. Empirical evidence to support this broadenand-build model of positive emotions is reviewed, and implications for emotion regulation and health promotion are discussed.
A second reason for the relative neglect of positive emotions is that, as a field, psychology gravitates toward problems and works to solve them. Not surprisingly, negative emotions pose a huge array of problems for individuals and for society, whereas positive emotions pose just a few. Anger and its management, for instance, have been implicated in the etiology of heart disease (Barefoot, Dahlstrom, & Williams, 1983; Fredrickson et al., 1998; Scheier & Bridges, 1995; Williams, Haney, Lee, Kong, Blumenthal, & Whalen, 1980) and some cancers (Eysenck, 1994; Greer & Morris, 1975), as well as in aggression and violence, especially in men and boys (Lemerise & Dodge, 1993). Relatedly, sexual jealousy has been implicated in domestic violence (Buss, 1994). Fear and anxiety fuel phobias and other anxiety disorders (Ohman, 1993). For some individuals, sadness and grief may swell into unipolar depression (NolenHoeksema, Morrow, & Fredrickson, 1993), which is the single most common psychological disorder of the present time, affecting 17 percent of adults (based on life-time prevalence in a U.S. sample; 13% for male participants, 21% for female participants; Kessler et al., 1994), and a likely trigger of suicide (Chen & Dilsaver, 1996). Shame may be another route to depression (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997; Lewis, 1971) and to eating disorders (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997; Noll & Fredrickson, in press; Silberstein, Striegel-Moore, & Rodin, 1987) and sexual dysfunction (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). The list could go on. In contrast, positive emotions have been implicated in just a few problems: bipolar disorder is marked by experiences of excessive mania or euphoria alternating with depression. Some theorists view unipolar depression as a deficit in positive affect (Davidson, 1993; Heller, 1990; Lewinsohn, 1974), and a subset of psychoactive drugs (e.g., heroin, cocaine, alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines) act on the neurochemical systems associated with positive emotions, in effect hijacking these systems and creating risks for addiction and substance abuse (Nesse & Berridge, 1997). Given the vast array of human suffering and loss that stems from excessive or inappropriately expressed negative emotions, the press to understand these emotions is immense. Arguably, efforts to understand positive emotion should take a backseat to solving these problems. The misfortune of this triage strategy, I argue, is that even though positive emotions may not spark problems of the same magnitude as negative emotions, they may in fact provide some important solutions to the problems negative emotions generate. I return to this point in a later section.
Not only do the positive emotions of joy, interest, contentment, and love share the feature of broadening an individual's momentary thought-action repertoire, but they also appear to share the feature of building the individual's personal resources, ranging from physical resources to intellectual resources to social resources. Importantly, these resources are more durable than the transient emotional states that led to their acquisition. By consequence, then, the often incidental effect of experiencing a positive emotion is an increment in durable personal resources that can be drawn on later in other contexts and in other emotional states. I refer to this as the broaden-and-build model of positive emotions....
I offer a new model for understanding the form and function of a subset of positive emotions, including joy, interest, contentment, and love. Specifically, I propose that these positive emotions broaden (rather than narrow) an individual's thought-action repertoire, with joy creating the urge to play, interest the urge to explore, contentment the urge to savor and integrate, and love a recurrent cycle of each of these urges. In turn, these broadened thoughtaction repertoires can have the often incidental effect of building an individual's personal resources, including physical resources, intellectual resources, and social resources. I call this the broaden-and-build model of positive emotions and suggest that it can explain why the propensity to experience positive emotions has evolved to be a ubiquitous feature of human nature and how, in contemporary society, positive emotions might be tapped to promote individual and collective well-being and health. My hope is that this new model might spark readers' interest and thereby prompt further empirical exploration of positive emotions and related affective phenomena.