Emotion is key #8 to happier living

emotion_full_200Is the glass half full rather than half empty. Can you be grateful, have joy and inspiration in good and bad times? Positive emotions – like joy, gratitude, contentment, inspiration, and pride – help to strengthen our mental health. So although we need to be realistic about life’s ups and downs, it helps to focus on the good aspects of any situation. Chrissy Jeter, member of The Echoing Green, tweets every day a topic to be grateful for a midst the highs and lows of everyday life.

Positive emotions have the effect of broadening our perceptions, in much the same way that negative emotions narrow them. This broadening helps us to see more, respond more flexibly and in new ways and be more creative. It makes us more open to different ideas or experiences and we feel closer to and more trusting of others. And it doesn’t just stop there. Feeling good in the short term can also help us feel good in the long run. The new experiences and greater openness that result from positive emotions can lead to lasting changes in our lives. So over time, positive emotions help us to build the resources that lead to happier lives, such as friends, knowledge, better problem solving and even better health. What’s more they can act as a buffer against stress and help us cope when we face difficulties. There is also evidence that positive emotions can help us recover more rapidly from, or even undo, the effects of negative emotions.

Barbara Fredrickson shared her vision Positive Emotions Open Our Mind at a TED conference in 2011.

Joy <> fun; balance short and long term

It doesn’t mean we should just put all our energy into having fun in the here and now and forget about the stuff that takes more effort. We need a healthy balance between enjoying the moment and doing things that bring meaning and fulfilment in the longer term. Certainly evidence shows that enjoying the moment can increase how happy we feel overall. But there are lots of different positive emotions and not all of them come from “having fun”. For example, some are feelings we get when we’re truly interested in something or have put our best effort in to achieving something. Others come from quiet moments, like a few minutes of peace and calm in an othersiwe hectic day.

Also, doing things that are fun at the time can sometimes leave us feeling bad afterwards – like those last few drinks that we regret the next morning! And often we choose to do things that can leave us feeling frustrated at the time but where we know the end result will bring us fulfilment. So we need a balance between feeling good in the short term and findings activities that bring greater happiness in the long run.

More keys to happier living

These weeks I share more keys for happier living, as part of the Action for Happiness.