Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Director of the Social Psychology Doctoral Program and the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory, President-Elect, International Positive Psychology Association Kenan-Flagler School of Business
So positive emotions expand our awareness.
The, the benefit of that is how that changes us over time.
There's a, there's a great line from the end of
a poem by the English poet John Mansfield that I really like.
It was, it was his poem called Biography.
It's, like, how will people know me after I'm gone?
By a list of dates and facts?
Or what he calls the golden instance of, and bright days, you know,
it's like what's the better way for us to, to know a life?
And we tend to think of it's, it's going to be in terms of facts, but
the last poem,
the last line of this poem is the days that make us happy make us wise.
And so I think the ways in which when we invest in positive emotions, in a,
in a repeated way, it, it changes who we are.
One example of that is people's passions, something that they feel
is important to them that they spend a lot of time and they really value.
And research has been accruing to
show passions matter in terms of people's development and growth over time.
And I think they exemplify this, this kind of you know, build your capacity.
So I'm wondering if you could take a moment to,
think of a favorite activity that you devote considerable time to, that you
think is important, and you, that really, [NOISE] you know, you identify with.
And you know, and one that feels in harmony with the rest of your life.
So when, when you think of that activity, and you can say what it is or not,
[LAUGH] but what how has your involvement in that activity changed you over time?
I mean, what is, what is, if you're passionate for a sport.
Like for me,
I'm, I'm not really an athlete but I like to go running in the woods.
And there's a way in which that, you know, that keeps me in nature,.
When I'm running I sometimes spot a new trail, and I think, oh, I'll come back
here and, and bike with my son through this part of the trail or something.
So, it, there's ways in which, you know, my best ideas coming running, you know,
and there's ways in which that keeps a constant
kind of steady stream of positive emotions in my, my routine.
You guys have any examples of things that fit that?
>> So, [COUGH] you know counseling for me is all about empowering kind of others.
And no better feeling when someone, not even if they're struggling,
if they just feel better about what they're doing.
>> so, you know, it, selfishly, that gives me a lot of positive resonance or
whatever the right word would be.
>> Uh-huh. >> So that's what I like,
why I like my field so much.
>> Yeah, yeah.
>> You can make other feel, people feel empowered.
>> Yeah, yeah.
>> I can think of lots of examples from the sport world, but.
Well, I guess the same, human movement.
I love to dance.
And as I've gotten older, you know, we don't necessarily go out to clubs and
all that stuff.
But many times I'll just turn on some music in my living room and
just start dancing by myself.
And it's fun.
I mean it's just positive.
And the next you know you're on the phone talking to someone, sharing, or, you know,
or on the computer.
So it brings about that socialization, that engagement, but
it just starts with just feeling good about yourself, you know?
>> Yeah, yeah.
So again, you know, kind of getting back to that,
that metaphor of nutrients, that positive emotions are nutrients for growth.
I want to tell you about one study that we did a number of years ago where
we weren't working with people's kind of naturally occurring you know passions and
ways that they kind of bring positive emotions into their daily life.
But we tried to kind of surgically implant a new one [LAUGH] for people.
By teaching people techniques for self generating positive emotions.
And we've done this through teaching people meditation techniques.
And you know, we'll get some more experience and
exposure with that, you know, throughout this course.
But here I want to describe our first study where we tested the.
In a way, it's the so what.
Like, so what if positive emotions open us?
What does that, what, what does that matter over time?
Well, what we did in the study is we had some 200 employees of computer company
who was they opened their doors to us and let us do research with them.
And they were midlife working adults and we randomly assigned them to either be
part of this meditation workshop during the study or, you know, after
the study as kind of a thank you gift so they were, they were, you know, either
learning these meditation techniques to self generate positive emotions or.
Or or just keeping you know, and everybody in
the study was keeping track of their emotions on a daily basis, and, and
whether they were engaged in meditation, prayer or, or solo spiritual activity.
So, we wanted a question that everybody could answer on
a daily basis whether they were in the workshop or not.
And when they were learning these techniques,
they did it in in a workshop setting kind of like this little larger.
They come together with others for an hour or a week, and
we gave them guided meditations that they could take home.
So, it was a, it was a six week workshop.
With some home practice, and we got a really good snapshot of what people,
how people were doing before we ever randomly assign them to one group or
another, and then, about three months later,
we came back and they did a number of surveys for us.
So we got a really rich snapshot pre, and
a really rich same rich snap, snap shot post.
And what we found there is that teaching people these techniques to self
generate positive emotions really started this domino effect in people's lives.
I mean the first thing that we needed to see just to make this experiment valid and
worth while was that the more time they spent in meditation that
increase their positive emotions we found that that was the case, wasn't a huge
increase this is just a subtle upward shift in people's day to day lives.
And that's what allowed us to,
to then test okay what are the downstream effects of that.
So that f, that first effect was just a subtle increase in positive emotions.
The second effect is that, that subtle increase in positive emotions
lead to increases in key resources in people's lives.
Their mental resources, like their ability to be mindful, and be in the moment.
Their social resources.
Their feelings of connection with others.
Their psychological resources.
Their, their resilience, their mastery of difficult situations improved.
We even had people report fewer aches, pains, colds and flues.
So, it's like their, their health was improved by self report in this,
in this first study.
so, the, you know, we increase positive emotions that built resources.
We learned that those increased resources were consequential as well.
In that when people had an in, an increase in resources,
they also reported increased satisfaction with life and reduced depression.
So it's the there was a growth in resources, but
a growth that was consequential, you know?
So in this it really exemplifies this idea that, you know,
the days that make us happy change us, help us become better versions of
ourselves some places, you know, in ways that are wise.
And that's not just, you know, inconsequential.
It affects whether we think life is worthwhile.
It affects whether we feel that we can kind of
stave off feelings of depression and so on.
So there's ways in which there's a long term consequence,
to these things that we think are you know, we might think of them as just sort
of the fleeting every day experiences, but they change us in a deep way.