The syperfood of positive emotions
Positivity Resonance: Understanding everyday love. (Prof. Barbara Fredrickson)
Emotions and how they are discussed and classified is a hot topic within and outside of psychology. Traditionally, psychology classifies emotions into ‘positive’ (e.g., joy, calm, gratitude, pride, love) and ‘negative’ (fear, anger, sadness, shame, disgust). These are not value judgements (i.e. ‘negative emotions’ doesn’t equal ‘bad’), these are generally normal, healthy emotions that all humans feel. We have been clear for a long time that negative emotions protect and help us survive. If we are walking down a dark alley way and someone threatening is following us, it is appropriate to feel fear which in turn activates our physiological and mental fight or flight responses to keep or get us out of danger.
Until Barbara Fredrickson, much of the assumption was that positive emotions were just ‘nice things’ that helped us to ‘feel good’. However, now we understand that positive emotions play a vital role in in our wellbeing by broadening our minds and helping us grow and develop mentally and emotionally. They can even play a role in making less biased and more open to new ideas. (For more information on Fredrickson’s Broaden & Build Theory see references below).
Positive emotions play a vital role in our wellbeing by broadening our minds and helping us grow and develop mentally and emotionally.
Fredrickson’s most recent area of research focus is Love – and this was her topic at this week’s Happiness & its Causes Conference 2020. In particular, she introduced the idea of positivity resonance which she calls “the superfood of positive emotions”. Positivity resonance is “those collaborative, collective moments that are the most elemental building blocks of love”. Examples she gives are laughing with a friend or loved one; smiling with a baby; listening to and showing compassion to someone going through a hard time. These emotional moments build up the foundations that create loving relationships and communities over time.
Positivity resonance makes us feel better mentally and emotionally, and has even been linked to better physical wellbeing (i.e. less aches, pains, cold, flus). A study into married couples showed that those couples with higher levels of positivity resonance were not only the most satisfied couples, but also had better health longer term. Research during the COVID-19 pandemic also found that the most resilient individuals were those who were higher in positivity resonance, and therefore had better coping strategies and mental health outcomes. Positivity resonance also predicted more community-minded behaviours such as wearing masks, hand washing and sanitising.
Positivity resonance provides the building blocks of love, (or as my teenage daughter colloquially offered, “When we vibe together, we tribe together!”). It involves elements of spirituality (that is, a link to something greater than ourselves), humility and a sense of altruism.