P is for Positive Emotions

In the last edition of the Messenger, Martin Seligman’s PERMA model of well-being was introduced. The ‘Relationships’ factor discussed, along with some practical ways of boosting the contribution that positive relationships make to our sense of Flourishing. Today we focus our attention on Positive Emotion or what Seligman has referred to as ‘The Pleasant Life.’ This factor of well-being, part of an earlier theory of Seligman’s, is seen as a critical element of PERMA and hence our well-being.

Adapted from

When talking about Positive Emotion, we focus on all those ‘warm and fuzzy’ feelings and not just happiness. These feelings include joy, gratitude, amusement, interest, hope, pride, love, awe, excitement, compassion, contentment, and inspiration. Experiencing these kinds of emotions has been shown to lead to social, work, physical, personal, and psychological benefits. Experiencing positive emotions not only counteracts the experience of negative emotions, but it also increases resilience.

Image by @thewanderedworld retrieved from an image which may induce awe 

It is perhaps pertinent to mention here that avoiding, suppressing, or denying the experience of negative emotions is not the goal. Negative emotions are part of the human experience and are, therefore, equally important. In an evolutionary sense, our minds are far better at focusing on the negative than the positive. This ability enabled our ancestors to survive, so we have a predisposition to do the same. For further information regarding managing negative emotions, please see the Australian Psychological Society website here along with their information sheet on ways to deal with negative emotions associated with other people not following current health advice here. With this in mind, today’s article emphasizes how we can seek out opportunities that boost the quality and frequency of positive emotions, how we can cultivate these feelings, and how we can savour them when they arise.

Hints and Tips:

  • Undertake the What Went Well challenge by nightly writing down three things that went well that day and why. What went well may not be newsworthy and could be as small as a great sandwich you ate because you remembered to buy your favourite preserve!
  • Consider what activities make you feel good and schedule these into your routine.
  • Savour positive experiences either when they have previously occurred (e.g., reminiscing), when they are happening (e.g., focussing attention on the now), or when they will be occurring in the future (e.g., anticipating or planning).
  • Listen to the Music for Well-being: Positive Emotions, a Special Features program available through the ABC Listen to App, which explores contentment, amusement, wonder, joy, and whimsy through classical music.
  • Gratitude. You might consider writing a letter of appreciation to someone (see previous Messenger article). Other ways of practicing gratitude include starting a gratitude journal, writing them on Post-it notes, placing them in a gratitude jar, or merely focusing your attention on the person, act, experience, or item you are grateful for.  
  • Do one small act of kindness for someone else each day (e.g., give a compliment, make a donation, make a cup of tea/coffee for someone else, write a sweet note for a family member, send someone a joke, make breakfast in bed for someone, or check-in with someone you haven’t spoken to in a while).
  • Play with your children and pets, whether that be outside or online.
  • Exercise. It’s well known that engaging inactivity increases the experience of positive emotions.  
  • Identify a recent time when you experienced a negative emotion, consider the thought(s) that occurred at that time, find the evidence for these thoughts and possible alternative explanations or factors that may have been present at the time.
  • Maintain optimism. This one has been left last, given our current circumstances. However, despite the restrictions in place at the time of writing this article, we can choose to believe that we will experience excellent outcomes in life, no matter the challenges present to us as individuals, families, and communities.  

Wishing you all the best in your on-going pursuit of well-being for yourself and those you care for.

Further Reading/Listening

Educational and Developmental Psychologist