All emotions have evolutionary value. It is well understood that negative emotions have an evolutionary value. For the most part, negative emotions are associated with some kind of experience – fear, loss, and attack – that signals the activation of your flight or fight response. When you experience negative emotions you have a feeling of aversion, which acts to activate and set you in motion to identify what is wrong and eliminate it. Negative emotions are related to behaviors and actions that are associated with a sensory alert that activates us to focus on “fight, flight or conserve.”
Positive emotions also have an evolutionary advantage. They “broaden and build.” Experiencing the good feelings of positive emotions increases your survival chances because positive emotions broaden your intellectual, physical, and social resources and build reserves for you to draw upon.
The presence of good feelings increases your drive for exploration and discovery and provides the basis for positive social interactions. When you experience positive emotions, you become more tolerant, expansive, and creative and the more open to new ideas and new experiences you become.
Negative emotions narrow a person’s perspective to deal only with the immediate threat. When negative emotions are experienced, your flight or fight response is activated and you withdraw, freeze, or protect. In contrast, when you experience positive emotions, you feel safe and engage in active, playful exploration, and discovery. Negative emotions contract and positive emotions expand.
Good feelings form the experiential foundation for mentally healthy people in that they provide a foundation for growth and exploration and build the intellectual, social and physical capital for further growth and development.
When you experience negative emotions, they tell you to focus on what is wrong and eliminate it. When you experience positive emotions, however, you start looking for the virtues of what is happening. You become constructive, generous, un-defensive, and open to seeing possibilities.
Experiencing good feelings makes available an entirely different way of thinking from a negative mood. A negative mood helps us detect threats in our environment and focus our attention on protection. A positive mood moves us into growth and development, exploration and discovery.
Advantages of Positive Emotions
The Three Principles of Positive Emotions
1. Positive Emotions Build Resources and Capital for the Future
The first principle of positive emotion is that good feelings build the resources and capital that will become the basis for growth and development in years to come. When positive emotions are experienced you will reach outward and broaden your resources by exploration and discovery. You’ll be more creative, think quicker, and not succumb to premature closure or other forms of superficial intellectual processing.
Depressed people experience what is called a “downward spiral” of negative emotions. Depressed emotions call forth negative memories that feed more negative thoughts, that feed more negative memories, that feed more depressed emotions. Breaking this downward spiral is crucial to stopping the depression.
Psychologists have found what they call an upward spiral of positive emotion – different way of thinking and acting. The thinking becomes creative and broad-minded, and the actions become adventurous and exploratory. This increased creativity and exploration results in greater expansion.
As good feelings produce expansion, more successful interactions in the environment produce more useful information about the environment and a sense of greater mastery. These successful interactions in the environment and the greater sense of mastery result in the generation of more positive emotions. These increased good feelings result in more exploration, creativity and discovery in even more areas of life as the sense of mastery from the successful interactions ripples outward.
2. Positive Emotions Create an Upward Spiral
This upward and outward spiral of good feelings leads to the second principle of positive emotions: Augment positive emotions in your life and start an upward and outward spiral of even more good feelings and thus more exploration, discovery, creativity, and insightful thinking and more success and mastery in life.
3. Positive Emotions are Important
The third principle of positive emotions is that they need to be taken as seriously as negative emotions. Often negative emotions are taken more seriously because they have been believed to be the evolutionary backbone of human motivation. It was believed that people are motivated primarily to avoid experiencing negative emotions and that positive motivation was merely superficial.
Positive emotions are just as real, authentic, and important as negative emotions and equally important for evolutionary development, growth, and success in the world.
Positive Emotions Are Associated with More Successful Interactions in the World
Experiencing positive emotions brings more successful interactions with the world. Developing the art and skill of experiencing them will build more friendships, stronger love, better physical health, and more mastery and successful interactions in the world. Growth, positive development, and creative and successful interactions in the world (i.e. mental health) may have their foundations in the experience of positive emotions.
Happy People Are More Effective and Successful in the World
Happy people view themselves as more successful in the world. Happy people think that they have more skill than others think they do. Happy people remember more good events than actually happened and forget more of the bad events that happened Happy people see success as lasting, personal and pervasive and failure as impersonal, temporary and specific.
Happy people may lose a bit of realism but this does not lock them into ineffective functioning. Happy people are more likely to switch tactics when involved in a task that appears to be failing In the normal course of events, happy people rely on their tried and true positive past experiences while less happy people are more skeptical. However, when events are threatening, happy people, more readily than less happy people, switch tactics and adopt a skeptical and analytical frame of mind. Happy people seem to deal better with adversity.
Happier people are markedly more satisfied with their jobs than less happy people. More happiness actually causes more productivity and results in higher income. Happiness also makes gainful employment and higher income more likely. Adults and children who are put in a good mood select higher goals, perform better, and persist longer on a variety of laboratory tasks, such as solving anagrams.
Happy People Are Healthier
Positive emotions result in better physical health. Happy people spend more time playing. Playing has distinct survival benefits and is associated with greater creativity, muscle, and cardiovascular fitness. Good feelings also predict health and longevity and protect people from the wear and tear of aging and strongly predict who lives longer, who dies earlier and who will become disabled. Happy people seek out and make use of more health risk information. Happy people have better health habits, lower blood pressure, and stronger immune systems than less happy people. They endure pain better and take more health and safety precautions when threatened. Positive emotions prolong life and improve health.
Happy People Are More Connected With Others
The expression of good feelings results in more secure relationships. Very happy people differ markedly from average people and from unhappy people in one principle way – a rich and fulfilling social life. Happy people have more close and casual friends, are more likely to be married, and are more involved in group activities than unhappy people. Happy people are also more altruistic. When we are in a good mood we are less focused on ourselves, we like others more and we want to be kinder and share our good fortune more with others. However, when we are experiencing negative emotions we become distrustful, turn inward and become defensive about our own needs.
Focusing on the Positive
Positive emotions undo negative emotions and reduce the negative physical and psychological stresses of negative experiences. Negative emotions tell you that you are facing a win-loss encounter and need to take steps to engage with the obstacles. Positive emotions tell you that you are in a potential win-win situation and guide you to be more expansive, tolerant, and creative so that you can maximize the social, intellectual, and physical benefits of the situation.
It is important to generate and build the experience of positive affective states rather than simply extinguishing negative emotions. Positive affective states become the fuel and the raw material for experiencing more growth and development, more exploration and discovery, more mastery and successful interactions in the world, and building, developing, using and leveraging our strengths.
You can dedicate this month to recognizing the importance of building a core motion towards happiness. You will broaden, build and become more successful in your world (whatever success means for you). Seek to align yourself with the wisdom shared by world leaders and preachers.
“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life; dream of it; think of it; live on that idea. Let the brain, the body, muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success, and this is the way great spiritual giants are produced.”
– Swami Vivekanand
“You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.”
“You cannot believe in God until you believe in yourself.”
“The world is the great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves strong.”
– Swami Vivekanand
“Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it.”
– Dennis P. Kimbro
“There is no royal road to anything. One thing at a time, all things in succession. That which grows fast, withers as rapidly. That which grows slowly, endures.”
– Josiah Gilbert Holland
“Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.”
– William James
“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, I used everything you gave me.”
– Erma Bombeck
“The quickest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it back in your pocket.”
– Will Rogers
“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
– Will Rogers
“When I hear somebody sigh, ‘Life is hard,’ I am always tempted to ask, ‘Compared to what?’”
– Sydney Harris
“Nurture your mind with great thoughts. To believe in the heroic makes heroes.”
– Benjamin Disraeli
“The real opportunity for success lies within the person and not in the job.”
– Zig Ziglar
“You may find the worst enemy or best friend in yourself.”
– Old Proverb
“Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.”
– Winston Churchill
Are You Experiencing Positive Emotions?
Do you begin and end each day feeling excited and grateful?
Do you experience moments of pleasure throughout the day?
Do you experience gratification in the life you live and the work you are doing?
Is it easy for you to write down 5 things you appreciate about your day?
Do you feel like you are “in flow” for some parts of every day?
Do you believe that the “very motion of your life is towards happiness”?
If you answered “no” to any of the above, try taking steps to develop more of the good feelings of positive emotions in your life as explained above.