Article

Positive Emotions

Michael A. Cohn and Barbara L. Fredrickson

in The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology

Second edition

Published in print July 2009 | ISBN: 9780195187243
Published online September 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195187243.013.0003
 Positive Emotions

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Positive emotions include pleasant or desirable situational responses, ranging from interest and contentment to love and joy, but are distinct from pleasurable sensation and undifferentiated positive affect. These emotions are markers of people's overall well-being or happiness, but they also enhance future growth and success. This has been demonstrated in work, school, relationships, mental and physical health, and longevity. The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions suggests that all positive emotions lead to broadened repertoires of thoughts and actions and that broadening helps build resources that contribute to future success. Unlike negative emotions, which are adapted to provide a rapid response to a focal threat, positive emotions occur in safe or controllable situations and lead more diffusely to seeking new resources or consolidating gains. These resources outlast the temporary emotional state and contribute to later success and survival.

This chapter discusses the nature of positive emotions both as evolutionary adaptations to build resources and as appraisals of a situation as desirable or rich in resources. We discuss the methodological challenges of evoking positive emotions for study both in the lab and in the field and issues in observing both short-term (“broaden”) and long-term (“build”) effects. We then review the evidence that positive emotions broaden perception, attention, motivation, reasoning, and social cognition and ways in which these may be linked to positive emotions' effects on important life outcomes. We also discuss and contextualize evidence that positive emotions may be detrimental at very high levels or in certain situations. We close by discussing ways in which positive emotions theory can be harnessed by both basic and applied positive psychology research.

Keywords: broadening; evolution; happiness; growth; resources

Article.  8135 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology ; Clinical Psychology

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