Positive Emotions According to Science

In the study of emotions in psychology, negative emotions have always seemed to prevail, while these are usually those that have been directly associated with psychological disorders. However, many studies suggest that caring for positive emotions, such as optimism or hope, may eventually be more beneficial than the treatment of depression or subsequent anxiety.

Thus, positive emotions are not only recommended for their instantaneous impact on mood. As we will see below, they can provide the person who feels that positive affect with coping strategies, healthier attribution styles and a way of relating very differently to the people in whom positive emotions prevail.

The amplifying and constructive theory of positive emotions

Fredrickson (2009), principal investigator of the  Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab  at the University of North Carolina, developed the global and constructive theory of positive emotions.

In this framework, it studies the initial impact of positive emotions in the processing of experiences, as well as in the increase of social and personal skills. In this way, positive emotions would allow the person to develop schemes and skills that would lead to an expansion of skills and action.

Positive emotions, however, not only have homonymous repercussions. In fact, positive emotions can have a positive but also negative effect. Among the positive effects that have been found, we can highlight:

  • Increased benevolence in the judgment about oneself and others.
  • Increased access to pleasant and positive memories that reinforce the effects of the initial positive emotion.
  • Greater flexibility and speed in cognition.
  • More altruistic behavior .
  • Faster decision making .

As we have said before, positive emotions can also have negative effects for the person. Among them, we highlight:

  • Thought is more superficial and less analytical.
  • Less rigorous information processing.
  • Vulnerability to persuasion .

Sense of humor: positive does not equate to simple

We are already clear about the impact of positive emotions on the person. However, what are those emotions we are talking about?

One of them is the sense of humor , which although it has been present in most interactions since man is a rational being, it is not a phenomenon as studied as others.

It was positive psychology that during the 80s developed interest in such a complex emotion. Although it is a social process, it is also an experience that affects the cognitive, emotional and social aspects of the person .

Humor has been studied like any other phenomenon. Therefore, three theories have been developed that try to explain its origin. Thus, they focus on one question: what need does the man who covers humor have?

The theories developed are:

  • Theory of superiority . Humor increases the well-being of the moment because it responds to a more or less latent aggressiveness. This aggressiveness is expressed when one laughs at the misfortunes of others (such as when someone falls to the ground) or when someone makes a fool of himself.
  • Theory of inconsistency . Humor is based on two ideas or aspects that are irreconcilable, and therefore motivates a reaction of humor by the user. This theory indicates that humor is close to creativity.
  • Psychodynamic theory . From this theory, it is argued that humor is a tool that humans use to avoid feeling bad, anxious, aggressive or uncomfortable.

Optimism: the need for expectation

The second positive emotion studied by psychologists is optimism, which is defined as the generalized expectation of positive results.

Optimism continues to meet the needs of the human being because human action usually needs a positive development expectation to be carried out. If it is understood that things are not going to go as expected, the action would not be taken. Optimism and pessimism describe two very different personality profiles.

Optimism is, therefore, closely related to human behavior , while optimistic subjects tend to initiate more behaviors, and persist more in them. This usually leads them to be more likely to achieve positive results, as they start and try.

Some studies raise the effects of optimism , of which we will highlight:

  • Optimism is a predictor of survival , better than some clinical factors.
  • Optimism leads to a type of coping aimed at emotions, where it is about focusing on the positive aspects and based on these generate mechanisms of adaptation.
  • Optimistic people have a lower psychophysiological reactivity , which affects the physical health of the individual less negatively, while good results are expected.

However, optimism also harbors negative effects, because if a good future cannot be expected, it can increase the risks and ignorance of imminent major threats . Therefore, authors such as Avia and Vázquez (1999) propose an “intelligent optimism” , where they insist on the positive aspects of a reality that can also be negative.

The Life Orientation Test questionnaire shows that optimism is a stable variable for at least 3 years , since its score in this variable is maintained even when unpleasant events occur.

Hope: the achievement of objectives

Scotland relates optimism and hope, since for this author, hope is an expectation of the future about a personal goal.

This objective has a high personal value and motivates the individual to achieve it. Scotland understands hope as an emotion that encourages the person to persist in achieving their goals.

Snyder (2000), on the other hand, assumes that hope is a positive motivational state, emanating from the conviction that certain objectives can be achieved. This author distinguishes the hope of optimism in the importance of the objective to be achieved.

The importance of the objective also entails thoughts with a strong magnitude, and the perception that one’s ability is sufficient to achieve that objective. Hope, therefore, has an active and committed dimension.

Studying positive emotions not only implies a greater understanding of oneself and their reactions. Sometimes, the study of emotions such as anxiety, anguish or sadness leads to the elaboration of methods in which it is a question of avoiding or removing that anxiety, anguish or sadness.

Rather than avoiding negative emotions, the study of positive emotions could lead the way to enhance them . The work in optimism, sense of humor and hope can then avoid further work in anguish, sadness and anxiety.