How to feel better – Let’s chase the top ten positive emotions

By Sally Evans

I don't know about you, but I am ready for a little break from bad news.

It would be so easy to slip under the waves of fear, depression or just plain anger. So, what to do? The phrase ‘focus on the positive’ is well used, but there is a really good reason for it.

One of my favourite books is Positivity, by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson. A pioneer in the field of positive psyhcology, Dr. Fredrickson has been studying positive emotions in her lab long before it was vogue. Her data reveals that negative emotions, like fear, can close down our ability to function, while positive emotions open us up to possibility, and provide us with an increased ability to problem solve, be creative and move forward.

She, along with many other psychologists stress the importance of not just being happy; but flourishing. So how can we develop the ability to flourish?

"Investing in things that bring us more positive emotions is an investment in our future. Choosing Hope over Fear. "

Dr. Fredrickson's came up with a top 10 list of positive emotions. Allow yourself an opportunity to scroll through the list and ask yourself, ‘When did I last fully experience this emotion?’ The answers may surprise you. Importantly, we could all now challenges ourselves, to try and seek out this emotion each day.

Joy  - Joy happens in an instant -- a perfect moment captured when all is just exactly as it should be. Think of a wonderful holiday morning with the family, an unexpected present that delights you, or seeing the first smile on your infant's face. What brings you Joy?

Gratitude - Gratitude is a moment of realising someone has gone out of their way for you, or simply feeling overwhelmed with your heart opening, after being moved in some way. With gratitude comes a desire to give in return or 'pay it forward' in some way. When did you last experienced deep Gratitude?

Serenity - Serenity is like a mellow, relaxed, or sustained version of Joy. Serenity is a peacefulness that comes on a cloudless day, when you realise there's nothing you have to do. Serenity is indulging in a favourite luxury, and being mindful enough to take it in. Serenity is the moment on holiday when you finally let go. Has Serenity crossed your door lately?

Interest - Interest is a heightened state that calls your attention to something new that inspires fascination, and curiosity. Like a shiny new toy to capture your imagination, interest is alive and invigorating. Interest wakes you up, and leaves you wanting more. What Interests you these days? 

Hope -  Dr. Barbara Fredrickson describes it best: ‘Unlike other emotions that arise out of comfort and safety, hope springs out of dire circumstances, as a beacon of light. Deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change, turn out better. Possibilities exist. Hope sustains you and motivates you to turn things around.’ What brings you Hope?

Pride - Ever done something really well that took a little time and effort? Maybe you reached a goal you never thought was attainable? Then pat yourself on the back with unadulterated Pride. Stand back, take that deep breath and let it in -- you earned it. What have you done that made you proud?

Amusement  - Think of amusement as those delightful surprises that make you laugh. It's those unexpected moments that interrupt your focus and make you laugh. It's a great feeling to have amusement sparkle out of nowhere and instantly change your perspective. Have you had any amusement in your life recently?

Inspiration - Inspiration is a moment that touches your heart and nearly takes your breath away -- or takes in your breath, as the word literally translates. Inspiration whispers, as you watch a perfect sunset, witness academic or athletic excellence, or observe unexpected triumphs over adversity. What brings Inspiration in your life?

Awe - Awe happens when you come across goodness on a grand scale, and you feel overwhelmed by greatness. Awe is triggered when we are faced with the vastness of nature, or the cosmos. Gazing at the Milky Way and counting the stars or standing at the top of the Brecon Beacons triggers awe. Have you had a moment of awe lately?

Love - Guess what? The list is rigged! Actually, the #1 most frequent positive emotion is here at the bottom. Love encompasses all of the above: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration and even awe. Love is all that and more. When we experience love, our bodies are flooded with the ‘feel good’ hormones that reduce stress and even lengthen our lives.

How did you make out on your list? Are you experiencing these emotions on a regular basis, occasionally, or hardly any at all? Most importantly, how can we experience them more often?

Let's try an experiment together. All you need are some sticky notes.

Put each of the ten positive words above on a sticky note. For the next ten days, peel off one at a time, and take that word with you, wherever you go, as your daily ‘flourishing mission’. Put your daily sticky note on your notebook or on the bathroom mirror. Take in the essence of each word and try to bring it out in others. Search for that positive emotion and bask in it when you find it. That feeling will truly help you flourish for the rest of the day.

Sally Evans is a Business Psychologist and Development Consultant. She is also the Founder of LifeBuddy