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“Positive emotions exert their power over the long term, and are critical to building a healthy and fruitful life” (Fredrickson, 2002)
Imagine someone who is grumpy, angry, frustrated, complaining and dissatisfied with his/her life.
Now think about a person who is friendly, kind and smiling.
If you had to choose between becoming friends with one of the two of these people, which one would you choose? I would choose the second person, as I assume you would too.
There is a reason why we choose the second person: our emotions serve vital sociability functions both for affiliation as well as social distancing. They also help us create, sustain or differentiate within a group.
Below are 5 reasons why positive emotions play such an important role in our sociability:
1) They help us create new relationships
If negative emotions ‘cut it off’, then positive emotions ‘build it up’.
In general, our perspective is narrowed when we have negative emotions according to the Broaden and Build Theory (Fredrickson, 2002). We have been designed to act in threatening situations with flight, fight and freeze responses and negative emotions play an important role in how we sustain ourselves, including protecting us in a social context. Positive emotions however widen our thought action repertoires, making us more flexible and imaginative, thus increasing our sociability for creating new friendships or groups.
2) We engage in new activities in new environments
According to a study performed by Harker & Keltner (2001) people with positive emotions have “greater interest in engaging in different social, leisure, and physical activities”. Positive emotions therefore play an important role in pushing us to engage in varied social spaces and places.
3) They make us more attractive
Not only do positive emotions help us take positive action to be sociable, but they also make us more attractive. Joy and humor, for example, are socially beneficial as they make us laugh or smile indicating a playfulness and friendliness which welcomes those around us to socialize with us.
4) Positive emotions make us more cooperative
Positive emotions can strengthen social bonding among families, friends, co-workers, and society as a whole. They encourage “greater cooperation and reduce[d] conflict in the group” (Fischer & Manstead, 2008).
Fredrickson (2002) pointed out that positive emotions help us socialize more by decreasing separation amongst members of the group. With positive emotions, “people become better at remembering the faces of individuals of other races, and simultaneously are worse at perceiving physical differences between races.”
Therefore not only helping us create new relationships but also sustain the important ones we already have and can even influence society’s sociability as a whole.
5) They improve our relationships at work and home
A study conducted by Staw et al. (1994) showed that employees who had positive emotions achieved more in their job, had more favorable supervisor relationships and received more payment.
Another study (Harker & Keltner, 2001) revealed that married couples who experience high levels of positive emotions deal with relationship conflicts more efficiently. It also showed that women who had more positive emotions also had increased life satisfaction and fewer psychological and physical difficulties.
So how do we cultivate more positive emotions?
Some say that our emotions are dependent on the subjective interpretation we have of particular situations and what meaning we attribute to them. If your interpretation is positive, your emotions are positive as well. However meaning is not always the cause of our emotions.
In reality is more like a reciprocal relationship (Fredrickson and Joiner, 2002). If you commonly experience positive emotions, like joy, hope, inspiration and humor for example, you are likely to find more positive meaning in the things that happen to you. Creating an ongoing cycle of positive meaning making and all the benefits of positive emotions.
And isn’t that the beauty of life?
Fischer, A. H., & Manstead, A. S. (2008). Social functions of emotion. Handbook of emotions, 3, 456-468.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2002). Positive emotions. Handbook of positive psychology, 120-134.
Fredrickson, B. L., & Joiner, T. (2002). Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being. Psychological science, 13(2), 172-175.
Harker, L., & Keltner, D. (2001). Expressions of positive emotion in women's college yearbook pictures and their relationship to personality and life outcomes across adulthood. Journal of personality and social psychology,80(1), 112.
Staw, B. M., Sutton, R. I., & Pelled, L. H. (1994). Employee positive emotion and favorable outcomes at the workplace. Organization Science, 5(1), 51-71.