There is a whole range of positive emotions. Of course there is the category of ‘ jump for joy’ positive emotions, but often those are the obvious ones that come to mind. Other positive emotions could be described as feeling grateful for our current circumstances, feeling completely in tune with our environment, at peace, serene, tranquil, and savoring that. Or sharing laughter with a loved one, a friend, and the lightness of that moment. Or being inspired by great leaders, feeling the love and closeness of people we care for.
All these positive emotions share in their core, two common truths. The first one is that they open us. They literally change the boundaries of our hearts and our minds, and change our outlook on our environments. They increase the expanse of our peripheral vision. Our world quite literally expands, and we can see more. The openness of our hearts and minds obey the warmth of positivity. It changes our ability to see our common humanity with others.
Because we see more, we see more possibilities, we come up with more ideas about what we might do next. We become more creative. We are more likely to be more resilient, and are able to bounce back quicker from adversity. Studies have demonstrated that children do better on a Math test if they think of a positive memory before the they take the test, so there is better academic performance. Research has also shown that physicians make better medical decisions, as they are better at integrating the complex information of an unsolved case.
Positive emotions also allow us to look past racial and cultural differences, to recognize the uniqueness of individuals, and to see towards oneness. People are more trusting, people come to better win-win solutions and negotiations. At a very fundamental level, we are able to see larger systems, larger forms of interconnection that can make a huge difference when we are trying to address some really entangled problems that we face.
The second core truth about positive emotions is that they transform us for the better. They bring out the best in us. Everyday, new cells are being born within us. Scientists tell us that on all body systems, we replace 1% of our body cells each day, which means we will on average replace 30% by next month, 100% by the next season. We are turning over a lot. The latest science suggests that the pace of cell renewal does not just follow some predetermined DNA script, but that our emotions affect the level of cellular change. This is an idea that is completely consistent with the broader lesson that positive emotions change who we are.
Therefore if we increase our daily diet of positive emotions, we change who we are, we change our ways of being in the world. However, changing our traits to develop positive emotions is not easy. It is akin to a lifestyle change, and requires continual reinforcement and effort. It takes as much will power as does lowering our cholesterol or losing weight.
All human beings can either languish, barely holding onto life, or flourish, becoming ripe with beauty and possibility, and remarkably resilient to hard times.The degree to which we experience positive emotions in our lives will predict whether we are languishing or flourishing. We can let positive emotions light our way to the path of flourishing.