Positive Psychology – basics

Positive emotions

(adapted from Chapter “Positive Emotions Broaden and Build” by Barbara Fredrickson)

It is true that emotion, a concept often cast as ethereal, was an early topic within psychology (e.g., Cannon, 1929; James, 1884). Yet, emotions science did not emerge as an organized subspecialty until the mid-1980s, as marked by the formation of the International Society for Research on Emotions (ISRE) in 1984, the first multidisciplinary professional association for scholars specializing in this area. It is fair to say that in the 30 years since, research on emotions has exploded. Yet even decades after emotions became a rigorous and accepted topic of scientific inquiry, psychology’s inferiority complex held sway to keep the focus on the most serious of emotions, namely, fear, anger, sadness, and the like. Even disgust made its way to the fore (e.g., Rozin & Fallon, 1987). It was as if the light-hearted emotions within the human repertoire might somehow weaken the fibers of the cloak of rigor that has been so important for psychology to don.

In this context, Barbara Fredrickson has sought to create an evidence-based understanding of light-hearted moments, charting their variety, the ways they change how the human mind works, and how, little-by-little, they change people’s lives. Fredrickson sets the stage for this review by briefly describing 10 key positive emotions. This is by no means an exhaustive list. She choose to focus on these 10 emotions not only because they are the targets of increasing research but also because evidence from the lab suggests that these 10 are experienced relatively frequently in people’s daily life. With one important exception, she describes them in the order of their relative frequency, starting with the positive emotions people appear to feel most often and moving on to those that they feel more rarely. The exception is love, which in their studies emerges as the most frequently experienced positive emotion. As described below, she sees good reason to describe it last.

Like all emotions, positive emotions are brief, multisystem responses to some change in the way people interpret—or appraise—their current circumstances. When this multisystem response registers that circumstances are somehow bad for the self, a negative emotion arises; when it registers good prospects or good fortune, a positive emotion arises. To foreshadow the broaden-and-build theory, for each of these 10 positive emotions, she describes (a) the appraisal patterns that trigger it, (b) the broadened thought–action repertoire it sparks, and (c) the durable resources that it helps to build. Table 1.1 offers these in summary form across its first four columns.

Joy. Joy emerges when one’s current circumstances present unexpected good fortune. People feel joy, for instance, when receiving good news or a pleasant surprise. Joy creates the urge to play and get involved, or what Frijda (1986) termed free activation, defined as an “aimless, unasked-for readiness to engage in whatever interaction presents itself” (p. 89). The durable resources created through play are the skills acquired through the experiential learning it prompts.

Gratitude. Gratitude emerges when people acknowledge another person as the source of their unexpected good fortune. Joy becomes gratitude, for instance, when awareness of one’s own good fortune is combined with admiration for another person for thoughtfully going out of their way to create that good fortune (Algoe, 2012). Gratitude creates the urge to creatively consider new ways to be kind and generous oneself. The durable resources accrued when people act on this urge are new skills for expressing kindness and care to others.

Serenity. Also called contentment, serenity emerges when people interpret their current circumstances as utterly cherished, right, or satisfying. People feel serenity, for instance, when they feel comfortable, at ease in, or at one with their situation. Serenity creates the urge to savor those current circumstances and integrate them into new priorities or values. The durable resources created through savoring and integrating include a more refined and complex sense of oneself and of one’s priorities.

Interest. Interest arises in circumstances appraised as safe but offering novelty. People feel interest, for instance, when they encounter something that is mysterious or challenging, yet not overwhelming. Interest creates the urge to explore, to learn, to immerse oneself in the novelty and thereby expand the self (Izard, 1977; Silvia, 2008). The knowledge so gained becomes a durable resource.

Hope. Whereas most positive emotions arise in circumstances appraised as safe, hope is the exception. Hope arises in dire circumstances in which people fear the worst yet yearn for better (Lazarus, 1991). People feel hope, for instance, in grim situations in which they can envision at least a chance that things might change for the better. Hope creates the urge to draw on one’s own capabilities and inventiveness to turn things around. The durable resources it builds include optimism and resilience to adversity.

Pride. Pride emerges when people take appropriate credit from some socially valued good outcome. People feel pride, for instance, when they accomplish an important goal (Tracy & Robins, 2007). Pride creates the urge to fantasize about even bigger accomplishments in similar arenas. The big dreams sparked by pride contribute to the durable resource of achievement motivation (Williams & DeSteno, 2008).

Amusement. Amusement occurs when people appraise their current circumstances as involving some sort on non-serious social incongruity. It can erupt, for instance, in the wake of a harmless speech error or physical blunder. Amusement creates urges to share a laugh and find creative ways to continue the joviality. As people follow these urges, they build and solidify enduring social bonds (Gervais & Wilson, 2005).

Inspiration. Inspiration arises when people witness human excellence in some manner. People feel inspired, for instance, when they see someone else do a good deed or perform at an unparalleled level. Inspiration creates the urge to excel oneself, to reach one’s own higher ground or personal best. The durable resource it builds is the motivation for personal growth (Algoe & Haidt, 2009; Thrash & Elliot, 2004).

Awe. Awe emerges when people encounter goodness on a grand scale. People feel awe, for instance, when overwhelmed by something (or someone) beautiful or powerful that seems larger than life. The experience of awe compels people to absorb and accommodate this new vastness they have encountered. The durable resources awe creates are new worldviews (Shiota, Keltner, & Mossman, 2007).

Love. Love, which appears to be the positive emotion people feel most frequently, arises when any other of the positive emotions is felt in the context of a safe, interpersonal connection or relationship. Love broadens thought–action repertoires both in an “all of the above” manner and by creating momentary perceptions of social connection and self-expansion. Likewise, love builds a wide range of enduring resources, especially social bonds and community.

The Positive Psychology – basics is part of online learning tools for personal and professional development of youth workers. The course is developed under the project “ACHIEVE” – innovative methods for training and development of youth workers (2016-2-BG01-KA205-023835) funded by European Erasmus + Programme. The content of the course is based on a literature review.

“There is only one person who could ever make you happy, and that person is you!”

David Burns

In this course you can find out the key elements of positive psychology, the study of happiness.

Being happy is something that all people want, no matter where or how old they are. But are the benefits of happiness a worthwhile goal or is it just about feeling good? A review of the available literature has revealed that happiness does indeed have numerous positive effects, which appear to benefit not only individuals, but also families, communities, and the society at large (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005). The benefits of happiness include higher income and better work outcomes (greater productivity and higher quality of work), larger social rewards (stronger social support and richer social interactions), more activity, energy, and flow, and better physical health (a bolstered immune system, lowered stress levels, and less pain) and even longer life. Happy people are more creative, helpful, charitable, and self-confident, have better self-control, and show greater self-regulatory and coping abilities.

The science of happiness has flourished the last 2 decades. It has been applied in various fields of science, in psychology, business, health and more importantly in education. It is called “Positive Education”. Positive education focuses on developing both well-being and social responsibility, without changing its primary goals. It contributes in identifying and developing strengths, nurturing gratitude, and visualizing best possible selves (Seligman et al., 2005; Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006). It is proven that it makes people more successful and showed to have a more lasting impact and change on having pro-social behaviour. It increases happiness and reduces depressive symptoms significantly (Sin and Lyubomirksy, 2009). Compared to unhappy learners, happier learners pay better attention, are more creative, and have greater levels of community involvement. It increases engagement, creates more curiosity and helps develop and overall love of learning (Fisher, 2015).

With this course we aim to introduce positive education into youth work and initiate a “Positive Non-Formal Education (NFE)”. Having unhappy youth who focus on the complains and the hassles will not solve the problems of unemployment, inactive participation and social exclusion. Instead, having happy youth will contribute in reinforcing their learning, their personal development, their professional progress, their authentic self, their health state, their sense  of initiative, volunteering and involvement in society and their connection with people and nature. We believe that this time has come!

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