Ever try to think creatively when the walls are caving in?


Our last blog explained that positive emotions let us broaden our general perspective.  When we feel content and safe, we can do things like plan for the future.  After the big successful meeting with a major account, the sales team can relax and take some time to brainstorm the expansion strategy for next year.  If it had bombed, they might be focused on what went wrong (or worse, played the blame game).

In the run up to a major deadline all you can do is focus on getting the paper written or the presentation completed.  In the moment it is very hard to think about different ways of approaching the problem.  So creative thinking and brainstorming is much more difficult when faced with a major deadline or looming danger.

Because positive emotions allow us to broaden our perspective, they allow us to build new intellectual, social, psychological and physical resources.  Emotions like awe and interest allow us to better appreciate and explore the world around us.  When we’re fascinated by a great book, we’re apt to discuss it with friends and ponder it’s meaning.  All the while we’re developing intellectual resources.  Emotions like joy and gratitude allow us to become close with our communities.  When we’re grateful to a friend and we buy them a card to thank them, we’re building another connection with them – we’re developing social resources.   And when we experience emotions like contentment, we can find inner peace and free ourselves from negative thinking cycles.  When we’re able to truly relax, we can let go of some of our fears and anxieties – we’re building psychological resources.  When children are running around in the playground playing tag, laughing, ducking, weaving, they are developing physical resources.

In her book Positivity, Fredrickson lays out a list of 10 positive emotions that her research subjects named as the most striking and powerful in their lives.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

Joy is the experience of things going your way.  It’s the way you feel when you can do no wrong, when each chance you take pays off, when you seem to live – at least briefly – in the best of all possible worlds.

Gratitude is the feeling that you’re the recipient of a gift, and the compulsion to show your appreciation and thanks.

Serenity is the third positive emotion.  It is the sense of calm and safety, the way you feel when you can afford to relax and absorb the world around you.

Interest is the fascination you feel when learning something new and engaging.   It is the good feeling that prompts you to want to learn more.

Hope is the excitement you feel while facing uncertainty or challenge, the ability to see tomorrow’s rewards and not only today’s risks.  Hope is the knowledge that you can overcome the odds, and that the future can be even better than the present.

Pride, is the sense of achievement, that we or someone we feel responsible for has done something worthy of merit.  We should note that Pride traditionally gets bad rap – it’s one of the seven deadly sins, Pride comes before a fall.  While it’s true that excessive pride can be dangerous, pride in moderation is absolutely a positive.  It’s the moment of rest during which you can look back and think, “My hard work, or that of my loved ones, has paid off.”

Amusement is the happiness we take from laughter or humor.  Different people experience amusement in different ways; some things just strike you as funny.  Whether your tastes run more towards Elizabethan comedies or Monty Python, amusement allows you to laugh at and with the world around you.  Laughing tends not to be a solitary activity but intensely social.  Amusement brings us together and allows us to enjoy our lives better.  It also serves an important social function by bringing groups together, even during periods of high tension or drama.   Amusement lets us recalibrate our emotions and take a momentary break from our worries and cares.

Inspiration is the liberation you feel from seeing or imagining something new.   It is the freedom to pursue a course of action you’d previously thought too dangerous or out of bounds.  It is the realization that you can do something different than you thought that you could before. You can become a better you.

Awe is the feeling you get when you see something that captures your breath, that indicates that you are part of something far greater than you realized.  To be in awe is to experience something amazing that changes your perspective and makes you feel closer to a family, group, or the world itself.

Love is the experience of a uniquely close relationship, one that leads to surges of the other positive emotions.  It can be an intimate, romantic, or familial relationship.  It can be passionate or compassionate.  The love that the newly-wed bride feels for her husband is very different from the love that soldier in battle feels for his company, but both are valid experiences of love.  It brings us closer to those around us and lets us better understand our own lives.