In this post I quote from the work of Barbara L. Fredrickson and her article on “The Value of Positive Emotions”. The majority is my understanding of her work and of positive psychology in general.

Research in psychology has lead us to having the science of emotions. People and emotions have been studied and the results are fascinating (especially to a Criminal Minds fan and regular people watcher like me. Sitting on a cafe terrace, people watching, isn’t just a way to wile away the hours, it’s a learning experience, honest).

Emotions aren’t limited to what we feel; they influence the way we act too.

Each emotion has an urge for action in a specific direction.

The graphic below shows the action urge for each emotion

Emotions Determine Action Responses


but they can be classified into two types of action:

Narrow, specific actions


Broad, open, types of actions

Negative emotions narrow our thought action repertoires to those that best promote survival in life-threatening situations. Narrow-minded was a term developed to describe what happens to our brain activity when we experience fear, disgust and anger. If food tastes bad, we have an instinctual desire to spit it out. Plain and simple: protect yourself by spitting it out. Then you can take time to figure out what’s wrong.

Positive emotions, on the other hand, broaden your mindset. What’s so good about that? Well, a broadened mindset helps build enduring personal resources.

What does that mean in english?

When you feel good, your thinking is more creative, integrative and flexible. You are open to more information and ideas. You have the capacity and the urge to prepare for future hard times. Don’t want to taste bad food again? When you’re feeling good you can come up with a million ways to ensure that your food tastes good.When you’ve got a bad taste in your mouth, the only thing you are focussed on is how to get rid of the taste.

Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating when I say a million. Here’s some of the research:

People were asked to watch a short video (designed to evoke either a positive, negative or neutral emotional response) and then list how many things they thought of doing.

The experiment shows that people in a positive emotional state, like joy, listed 3 x as many things as those in an anger state. And about 40% more than those in a neutral state.

The emotions that we feel have automatic and learned action responses. But we can choose how we want to respond. As a great leadership coach, Karen, said today (I’m paraphrasing)

“the difference with leaders is that they stop and decide: how am I going to act? what impact do I want to have?”

In positive psychology terms, I guess that would be: they pause, they create a positive emotional experience, and they they act from there.

So what are you going to do with this information? Here’s a suggested action:

For 3 days, keep track of the emotions you experience. Do nothing else, just notice and put a tick. What range of emotions do you have? What kinds of actions are you taking?

Coming up next time:

How can you undo the effects of negative emotions?