Positive Emotions are Contagious

Dr Georgiana Cameron

There is no doubt that emotions impact our wellbeing. Consider a moment of joy at the sight of another person’s face, feeling awe as you stop to take in a unique sunset, the pride you feel when your loved ones succeed. Such moments have the power to shape our perspective and our sense of purpose. When positive emotions outweigh negative emotions our wellbeing is greater, we are more protected from mental health problems and more open to the possibilities that life offers.

Building positive emotions does not mean eliminating negative emotions. All emotions can be useful cues to navigating the world around us. It is not possible or healthy to feel happy all of the time. In fact, negative emotions like anger and annoyance have an important role to play in keeping us alive, as they narrow our focus so that we can act quickly and avert danger. Yet negative emotions are not so helpful when experienced too often and when solving complex problems which require perspective, creativity and insight.

When we think of positive emotions, our view is often limited to ‘happiness’; however, positive emotions are so much more than that. Internationally renowned researcher, Professor Barbara Fredrickson, has identified the ten most commonly experienced and researched positive emotions:

  • Joy
  • Gratitude
  • Serenity
  • Interest
  • Hope
  • Pride
  • Amusement
  • Inspiration
  • Awe
  • Love

Take a moment to reflect on these emotions.

  • Do you experience them regularly? When was the last time you felt inspired, hopeful, interested?
  • What activities are you doing which bring on these emotions? What were you doing when you felt hopeful?
  • Are there some emotions you would like to experience more of? Is serenity an emotion you would like to have more in your life?
  • What might you do to experience these feelings more often?

Fostering positive emotions is not just about feeling good. Fredrickson and others suggest that the purpose of positive emotions is to broaden and build our point of view which allows us to think and act in more flexible ways. Research tells us that when people experience positive emotions they are more creative, resilient, trusting and tolerant of individual differences in others.

Whilst we all feel the benefits of positive emotions in the moment they happen, research is now telling us we benefit most from positive emotions in the long term. Positive emotions have the capacity to undo the impact of negative emotions and help us to build our psychological, social and physical resources. Studies have shown that frequent experiences of positive emotions are associated with greater resilience in the face of adversity.

We ask our children to eat vegetables so they will grow up to be healthy and have healthy habits. The same could be said of positive emotions. One way to encourage positive emotions is by helping children become aware of the full range of positive emotions and learn to use the language around these. Another one way to encourage positive emotions is to remember that emotions are contagious. Having happy friends, neighbours and siblings that live in close proximity to you increases your odds of feeling the same way. Given that parents and teachers are the greatest role models that a child can have, it is only natural that children mirror and reflect back their emotions. The proverb, “Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow” is very true when considering research on positive emotions. Indeed, positive emotions are amplified and extended through our relationships with others.

As a class, family, community or school we might like to ponder Fredrickson’s ten positive emotions, keeping in mind that we can experience them more frequently by working together to increase our awareness and through intentional activities.

Dr Georgiana Cameron
Dr Georgiana Cameron is a Trainer and Content Developer for the Institute of Positive Education. She has completed a Doctorate of Educational Psychology at the University of Melbourne. Georgiana has strong experience working directly with students, teachers and families in her work as an educational psychologist. Her time working on large-scale mental health initiatives in schools has given her a sound understanding of mental health prevention and promotion

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