Positive Emotions By Paul Pahil, Positivity Coach

  • 26 Mar 2010 12:00 AM
Positive Emotions By Paul Pahil, Positivity Coach
In the wake of a global crisis positive emotions seem out of place. For the moment, perhaps we should forget about feeling good altogether, and simply find ways to cope. Yet scientific research on positive emotions suggests that feeling good is far more important than many people suspect. Positive emotions do much more than merely signal well-being.

Positive emotions also improve coping and produce well-being. They do so not just in the present moment, but over the long term. There are 10 positive emotions. Most people can not identify these positive emotions and it seems people have become hardwired towards the negative. Let’s focus on the good news. Your moments of heartfelt positivity can transform your life for the better by building your resources, strengths and your health.

Each type of positivity arises for different reasons and feels somewhat unique. Each positive emotion holds the ability to broaden and build your life. Each lays a pathway toward your higher ground and each helps you to flourish.

There are many sources of joy, to me the sight and feeling of picking up Ayanna, my brother’s first daughter was incredible and filled me with immense joy. Perhaps your partner organised a surprise birthday or you are out to dinner with new friends and delighted in their company. Joy feels bright and light. Colours seem more vivid. There is a spring in your step and your face lights up with a smile and an inner glow. You feel like taking it all in. You feel playful and you want to jump in and get involved. What brings you joy?

Imagine you have just realised that someone has gone out of their way to do something good for you. Your neighbour offers to entertain your children for a few hours one afternoon. We can feel grateful for breathing clean air, having able bodies or having a safe and comfortable place to rest when we are tired. In any case, gratitude comes when we appreciate something has come our way as a gift to be treasured.

Gratitude opens your heart and carries the urge to give back to do something good in return, either for the person who helped you or for someone else. Gratitude, though, has an evil twin: indebtedness. If you feel you have to pay someone back, then you are not feeling grateful whereas when you are feeling indebted, which often feels distinctly unpleasant.

Indebtedness pays back begrudgingly, as part of the economy of favours. In contrast, gratitude gives back freely and creatively. It is a truly pleasant feeling intermixed with joy and heartfelt appreciation. True gratitude is heartfelt and unscripted. When was the last time you felt grateful – not polite or indebted, but truly and openly grateful.

Like joy, serenity enters when your surroundings are safe and familiar and require little effort on your part. It is when you let out that long, luxurious sigh because your current circumstances are so comfortable and so right. It is when you lie in a shaded hammock after a day of hard and rewarding work in your garden. It is strolling down a beach on a bright morning with sounds filling your head and a cool breeze tingling your skin.

It is curling up with a good book with your favourite drink beside you. Serenity makes you want to sit back and soak it in. It is a mindful state carries the urge to savour your current circumstances and find ways to integrate them into your life more fully and more often. When you tell yourself, “I need to do this more often!” that is serenity. When was the last time you savoured a serene moment.

Although you are feeling perfectly safe, something new or different draws your attention, filling you with a sense of possibility or mystery. Unlike joy and serenity, these circumstances call for effort and increased attention on your part. You are utterly fascinated. You are pulled to explore, to immerse yourself in what you are just now discovering. It is when you a new path in the woods and want to find out where it leads.

It is when you uncover a new set of challenges that allow you to build your skills, whether in cooking or dancing. It is that fascinating new book that awakens you to new ideas. When you are interested, you feel open and alive. You can literally feel your horizons expanding in real time and with them your own possibilities. The intense pull of interest beckons you to explore, to take in new ideas and to learn more. When did interest last draw you in?

Although most positivity arises when you feel safe, hope is an exception. If everything were already going your way, there would be little that you would need to hope for. Hope comes into play when your circumstances are dire, things are not going well for you, or there is considerable uncertainty about how things will turn out. Hope arises precisely within those moments when hopelessness or despair seem just as likely. Perhaps you have just failed an important test, lost your job, found a lump in your breast or a loving relationship has broken down. Hope, in desperate situations like these, is “fearing the worst but yearning for better”.

Deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change. No matter how awful or uncertain they are at the moment, things can turn out better. Possibilities exist. Hope sustains you. It keeps you from collapsing into despair. It motivates you to tap into your own capabilities and inventiveness to turn things around. It inspires you to plan for the better future. With hope, we become energised to do as much as we can make a good life for ourselves and for ourselves and for others. When was the last time you felt like this?

Pride is one of the so-called “self-conscious emotions.” Any emotion can go too far and perhaps this is especially true for pride. When specific and tempered with appropriate humility, pride is clearly a positive emotion. Pride blooms in the wake of an achievement you can take credit for. You invested your effort and skills and succeeded. It is that good feeling you get when you put the finishing touches on your home, whether it is planting a garden or redesigning your flat. When you achieve something in at work, made a sale or published your work. Or when you recognise that you made a positive difference to someone else, through your help, kindness or guidance.

These are not just any achievements, but socially valued ones. We sense at a deep level that our actions will be valued by others. That is what pride is a self-conscious emotion. Pride carries with it the urge to share the news of your achievements with others.

The mindscape of pride is expansive as well. It kindles dreams of further and larger achievements in similar domains: If I can do this, maybe I can … open my business … landscape the back garden … redesign the living room …. making the National team . . . be promoted . . . make a difference in the world. In this way, pride fuels the motivation to achieve. Research shows that people, who feel pride, are more likely to persist on difficult tasks. What makes you proud? What has pride inspired you to do?

Sometimes something unexpected happens that simply makes you laugh. A friend makes a funny face after she tries your latest dinner creation. A neighbour shares her latest favourite joke. A colleague jokes about the worse time of the day to hold meetings.

First, amusement is social. Although at times we laugh alone, those laughs are only pale renditions of ‘the laughter we share with another. Second, surprises are only amusing if they embedded with safe contexts, not if they are dangerous or threatening. If your friend makes a face because she is choking, or if your neighbour’s joke is offensive, you are not amused. By definition, then amusements are non-serious.

Heartfelt amusements bring the irrepressible urge to laugh and share your joviality with others. Shared laughter signals that you find your current situation to be safe and light-hearted and that you would like to use this blessed time to build connections with others. When was the last time you laughed?

Every so often, you come across true human excellence. You transcend the ordinary, seeing better possibilities than usual. Witnessing human nature at its very best can inspire and uplift you. Perhaps you see a colleague step away from a busy schedule to patiently help a disoriented older man find his way in a medical centre. Or you see a Hungarian water polo-team play a perfect game. You read the work of Arany János who seems to see into the core of the human soul. Or you witness one of your role models doing what they do best.

Feeling inspired rivets your attention, warns your heart and draws you in. Inspiration does not simply feel good, it makes you want to express what is good and do well yourself. It creates the urge to do your best so that you can reach your own higher ground. Along with gratitude and awe, inspiration is considered one of the self-transcendent emotions. It is a form of Positivity that pulls us out of our shell of self-absorption. Can you think of a time when you made the choice to be inspired?

Closely related to inspiration, awe happens when you come across goodness on a grand scale. You literally feel overwhelmed by greatness. Awe make you stop in your tracks. You are momentarily transfixed. Boundaries melt away and you feel part of something larger than life. Mentally, you are challenged to absorb and accommodate the sheer scale of what you have encountered.

Sometimes we are awed by nature, as I was with the stunning sunsets at the Grand Canyon, or seeing, hearing and feeling the power of the Indian Ocean. Other times we are awed by humanity as when we see Neil Armstrong take is first steps on the moon or my first visit to the beautiful Saint Istvan Basilica.

Awe, like gratitude and inspiration is a self-transcendent emotion. It compels us to see ourselves as part of something much larger, whether it is God’s great creation or the progress the world has made. Awe can also bind us emotionally to powerful and charismatic leaders, who often seem larger than life.

Love is not a single kind of Positivity. It is all of the above, including joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration and awe. What transforms these other forms of positivity into love is their context. When these good feelings stir our hearts within a safe, often close relationship, we call it love.

In the early stages of a relationship, tied up within your initial attraction, you are deeply interested in any anything and everything this new person says and does. You share amusement and laugh together, often as a result of the awkwardness of coming together for the first time. As the relationship builds and perhaps surpasses your expectations, it brings joy. You begin to share your hopes and dreams for your future together. As a relationship becomes more solid with the serenity of mutual love. You are grateful for the joys your beloved brings into your life, as proud of their achievements as you are of your own, inspired by their good qualities and perhaps in awe of the forces of the universe that brought you together.

Each of these moments could equally be described of love. So even though love is often the most common flavour of positivity that people feel. I have reserved it to the end so you can appreciate its different forms. Think of a time when you felt love surge within you.

Paul Pahil - Founding member of Centre of Applied Positive Psychology
Chartered member of CIPD

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