Let's say you start to brainstorm a list of all the emotions you've ever experienced. Just for fun, try it now.
What's on your list? Chances are, you included things like happy, sad, excited, angry, afraid, grateful, proud, scared, confused, stressed, relaxed, amazed. Now sort your list into two categories — positive emotions and negative emotions.
Feeling both positive and negative emotions is a natural part of being human. We might use the word "negative" to describe more difficult emotions, but it doesn't mean those emotions are bad or we shouldn't have them. Still, most people would probably rather feel a positive emotion than a negative one. It's likely you'd prefer to feel happy instead of sad, or confident instead of insecure.
What matters is how our emotions are balanced — how much of each type of emotion, positive or negative, we experience.
Negative emotions warn us of threats or challenges that we may need to deal with. For example, fear can alert us to possible danger. It's a signal that we might need to protect ourselves. Angry feelings warn us that someone is stepping on our toes, crossing a boundary, or violating our trust. Anger can be a signal that we might need to act on our own behalf.
Negative emotions focus our awareness. They help us to zero in on a problem so we can deal with it. But too many negative emotions can make us feel overwhelmed, anxious, exhausted, or stressed out. When negative emotions are out of balance, problems might seem too big to handle.
The more we dwell on negative emotions, the more negative we begin to feel. Focusing on negativity just keeps it going.
Positive emotions balance out negative ones, but they have other powerful benefits, too.
Instead of narrowing our focus like negative emotions do, positive emotions affect our brains in ways that increase our awareness, attention, and memory. They help us take in more information, hold several ideas in mind at once, and understand how different ideas relate to each other.
When positive emotions open us up to new possibilities, we are more able to learn and build on our skills. That leads to doing better on tasks and tests.
People who have plenty of positive emotions in their everyday lives tend to be happier, healthier, learn better, and get along well with others.
Science is helping us find out how valuable positive emotions can be. Experts have learned a lot from recent brain studies. Here are two findings that can help us use positive emotions to our advantage:
When we feel more positive emotions than negative ones, difficult situations are easier to handle. Positive emotions build our resilience (the emotional resources needed for coping). They broaden our awareness, letting us see more options for problem solving.
Studies show that people feel and do their best when they have at least three times as many positive emotions as negative emotions. That's because of something called the negativity bias.
The negativity bias is a natural human tendency to pay more attention to negative emotions than to positive ones. It makes sense when you think about it: Negative emotions call our attention to problems — problems we might need to deal with quickly. Tuning in to negative emotions can be a survival mechanism.
The negativity bias has a downside, though: It can make us think a day went badly, not well, even if we experienced equal amounts of positive and emotions that day. It takes at least three times as many positive emotions to tip the scales and make a day seem like a great one.
Building habits that encourage us to feel more positive emotions can help us be happier, do better, and reduce our negative emotions. Building positive emotions is especially important if we're already dealing with a lot of negative feelings such as fear, sadness, anger, frustration, or stress.
Building a daily positivity habit is pretty simple. It comes down to two basic steps:
Positive emotions feel good, and they're good for you. Pay attention to these powerful tools and find ways to make time for them in your everyday life. Create room in your day for joy, fun, friendship, relaxation, gratitude, and kindness. Make these things a habit and you positively will be a happier you!
Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: December 2013
|American Psychological Association (APA) The APA provides information and education about a variety of mental health issues for people of all ages.|
|Why Am I in Such a Bad Mood? Because of all the changes taking place in your life, you may feel like you're on an emotional roller coaster. Find out more about bad moods and why you have them.|
|Emotional Intelligence Just as IQ is a way of being academically smart, emotional intelligence (EQ) is a way of being people-smart. But unlike IQ, we can work on improving our EQ. Here are some tips.|
|Understanding Your Emotions Emotions help us relate to other people, know what we want, and make choices. Even "negative" emotions are useful. Find out how to understand emotions and use them effectively.|
|Choosing Your Mood Choosing your mood means being in control of it instead of feeling like it's controlling you. Here are tips on how to create the right mood to help you succeed at what you're trying to do.|
|5 Ways to Be More Aware of Your Emotions Emotional awareness (knowing what we feel and why) helps us learn about ourselves and build good relationships. Here are 5 ways to get more in touch with your emotions.|
|Gratitude Gratitude doesn't just feel good. Focusing on what's good in our lives can also be good for us. Find out how in this article for teens.|
|3 Ways to Increase Positive Emotions People feel and do their best when they experience at least 3 times as many positive emotions as negative ones. This article offers ideas on how to build these powerful emotions.|
|Positive Emotions: A Worksheet Positivity is fun to practice – as well as a great way to learn more about yourself. This worksheet is designed to help you explore 10 common positive emotions.|
|About Stressful Feelings Negative emotions are impossible to avoid and everyone feels them from time to time. They may be difficult, but they don't have to be stressful. Find out how to deal with stressful feelings.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.