The Life-Changing Power of Positivity
We’ve all experienced how catching up with a good friend, watching something funny on Netflix or reading an inspiring book can lighten a dark mood. But could positive emotions have an even longer-term effect?
Barbara Fredrickson, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has studied positive emotions and their effects for many years. It’s not surprising that her research has found many health and wellbeing benefits to experiencing positive emotions.
In an experiment with students at the University of Michigan, Fredrickson discovered that positive emotions help us recover from the physical effects of unpleasant experiences. In the experiment, students were shown a film which made them afraid. They then watched either a funny, uplifting, neutral or sad film. Monitoring their physical responses showed that the funny and uplifting films helped the students recover quickest.
But feeling positive doesn’t just help counteract unpleasant emotions. Negative emotions narrow our thinking – allowing us to focus on solving a problem, fighting an enemy or running away from danger – while positive emotions broaden our view, enabling us to see the big picture more clearly, and encouraging us to reach out to others. In doing so, they help us build a more accurate picture of the world.
Researchers have found that positive emotions not only contribute to health (mental and physical), they also build strong social relationships and creativity. They can even be linked to higher incomes. People who frequently experience positive emotions have also been shown to live longer – and research indicates that positive emotions create all these desirable results as much as they are produced by them. Positivity builds personal resources and resilience, creating a “virtuous circle” or “upward spiral” towards wellbeing.
To test the effects of positive emotions on personal resilience and resources, Barbara Fredrickson led an experiment with more than 100 members of staff of a business IT company. For several weeks, half the participants engaged with ‘Loving Kindness Meditation’, a form of Buddhist meditation which produces positive emotions. At the end of the experiment, the meditators enjoyed increased purpose in life, better social support and fewer illness symptoms, and this was shown to be a direct result of the rise in positive emotions.
Fredrickson’s theory is that evolution led to positive emotions being useful to our wellbeing. She believes that their increased interest in exploring and understanding the world, and stronger social bonds, gave our positive-thinking ancestors greater resources for survival. And now, positive emotions can help us live better lives.
Obviously, spending several weeks in a programme of meditation isn’t for everyone. Fredrickson is clear that to make the most of her research we need to expand our self-awareness and find our own path to increased positive emotions. In her recent book, ‘Positivity’, she says her findings are “destined to remain merely interesting dinner conversation until you deepen your self-study … discover for yourself what rouses genuine and heartfelt positivity.”
At Untapped AI, we know how important it is to understand and accept yourself. We continually see the benefits of self-awareness as we support our Users to discover what is important to them. This enables them to work through difficult issues and take a more hopeful approach. Users regularly tell us that working with Untapped.AI has helped them feel they are more in control of their life, they are also calmer, more positive, better connected in their relationships (at home and at work) and happier.
Positive mindsets encourage us to explore and experiment. Through being more open, we boost our creativity, develop a more accurate picture of the world and cultivate better resources for sustained wellbeing.