Pillar of Well-Being #1: Positive EmotionsNovember 1 , 2012

NOTE: This is part 1 of on the five pillars of well-being and flourishing, the P in PERMA.

Positive emotions — what I somewhat generically have been referring to as “happiness” — are essential to a life well-lived.  Positive emotions are simply about feeling good.  It’s almost exclusively subjective, meaning only you know if you are feeling positive emotions at a particular time.  We know from the research that feeling good ushers in lots of benefits including better health, stronger relationships and higher rates of success and performance.

Barbara Fredrickson, in her book Positivity, summarized the importance of positive emotions in our lives.  She specifically calls out the 10 most-studied positive emotions which include:  joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love.    She also found there is a ratio of positive to negative emotions that can help us easily tap into these benefits of well-being; specifically, experiencing 3 positive emotions (e.g. joy, gratitude, inspiration) for every negative one (e.g. fear, anger, envy), allows your share of positive emotions to spiral upward causing more positive feelings and increase the benefits felt  (think of it like the emotional version of a rabbit population).

How to increase your positive emotions

This blog, over the last 14 months, has almost exclusively focused on how to increase the amount of positive emotions or happiness you feel.   As most of you know by now, the easiest place to start is with the 5 happiness habits found here:  The 5 habits.

Go to this post  for a simple and powerful exercise for tapping into your own life for what makes you happy and to this one  to figure out how to prioritize these happiness producing activities.

You can also increse your positive emotion ratio by decreasing the negative emotions you feel.  The easiest way?  Reducing your exposure to negative media .  If that feels impossible during an election season, consider taking up meditation or yoga or increasing the quality of your sleep.

My Experience

I’ve been drawn to positive psychology since I realized I couldn’t succeed my way to happiness five years ago.  Since then, I’ve used myself as a laboratory, trying different happiness inducing habits and working to change my perspectives.  Some of it works great for me – exercise and meditation both contribute significantly to my joy and serenity.  Other happiness tools and habits don’t seem to help much right now.   Gratitude journaling for instance, quickly turns into a chore for me rather than a way to buoy my spirits.   And even though I know the tools to embrace and/or reduce my negative emotions, it sometimes doesn’t occur to me to use them until I’ve cycled too far down to easily get back out.

Managing emotions is tricky business that takes a lifetime of learning.  Letting go of the goal and expectation of always being happy has been an important change in perspective for me and has helped me to tap into and enjoy positive emotions when they are present.

Take Home Message

Increasing your positive emotions comes down to one big premise:  prioritizing yourself.  Make time for those activities that feed your soul and increase the amount of happiness you feel.  Happiness and the other positive emotions contribute greatly to your sense of well-being.  So do it.  Find something in the tools and habits discussed in this post and try it out.  You are worth it!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
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