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 you've gotten a bit of a flavor for positive and
negative emotions, how they differ.
I mean, one of the key ways that they differ is that positive emotions are so
much more subtle than negative emotions.
I mean, negative emotions kind of scream at you, and
positive emotions are just a little whisper sometimes.
And that's that asymmetry between the positive and
the negative is something that is definitely sort of part of life and
it's a key part of understanding positive psychology, is negativity bias,
can kind of blind us to the opportunities to experience positive emotions.
So maybe just take a moment and
think of an example of when negativity bias creeps into your daily life.
Anyone have an example of that?
>> Yeah, well, what comes to mind for me is there have been times where I've
say given a talk or had an interview or something.
And there will be maybe one thing that I said that was wrong or
just not exactly how I wanted to say it.
And even if it was a great talk,
afterwards that'll be kind of replaying like oh, I could have said it this way and
that would have been more powerful or whatever it is.
But it's amazing how much it can stick with you something.
>> Right. >> Small like that.
the, you know, this is the way the human brain is designed.
Now that's not necessarily a, a personality difference.
This is kind of a human universal, is that the negative stuff pops out and screams.
So you know, there are all kind of ways we can see where that would've been
adaptive you know, does anybody have thoughts on.
>> Well I'm thinking of a political campaign, political season.
You just get a hold of one thing and then the commercials and the negative ads and
it just spirals and spirals and we end up so polarized and people hold on
to the negative verses even taking the time to get to know the candidate or
>> Right. >> All you need is one spark and
then it just goes on.
>> Well, it's because you know, that one spark will grab everybody's attention.
So this is why the news is if it bleeds it leads.
You know, that's because the, the job of those in the media is to grab attention
and so that's the quickest, cheapest, sure-fire way to, to get that attention.
So, you know, it's, it's kind of like a, a cheap shot in some ways, but
it's again, it's just the way the, the brain is, designed.
Our, our whole what we inherited from our,
you know, early human ancestors and, you know,
you can see pretty readily that okay, it's good for us to be attuned to danger.
Because those of our ancestors who were attuned to danger,
you know, became our ancestors.
Instead of just being a, you know, a broken branch on the family tree.
But and you know, some people have argued that
the negativity bias is like in the current circumstance a design flaw.
I don't, I don't think it is because you know, if we're feeling great and
wonderful, so great and wonderful that we don't notice that a bus is about to
hit us you know, that, that wouldn't be good, you know.
So we, we still need this negativity bias today, but it does kind of get in the way.
And our, our brains are just, you know supercharged ready
to pick apart any mistakes or come up, come across anything negative.
So we, we just need to work with that.
Kind of counteract that.
I think one way to counteract that is to
get a more familiar with the range of positive emotions.
>> Mm-hm. >> And so
one thing I'd like to do is kind of go through ten different kinds of
positive emotions really quickly.
And for each one, talk about, you know, the kind of circumstance that creates it.
The kind of appraisal or interper, how we interpret that
circumstance that triggers it, what it, what it makes us want to do right then,
and then, kind of long term, what are the outcomes that go with it.
You know, and just, just to give you of flavor of,
you know, positive emotions isn't just all happy.
You know, this, there's so many different kinds of positive emotions and in fact,
you know, I've, I've written in some places like oh I'd like to ban the word
happy just because it's, you know, it's used so, so often it's not very specific.
That's certainly I don't ban the word happy.
>> [LAUGH] >> But as a scientist it becomes a little
less useful sometimes so I try to get a little more specific.
The, the emotion that's probably closest to happy it would be joy.
The circumstances that elicit joy or, you know,
something, something's going really well for you, maybe better than expected.
Situation feels safe and when people feel joyful the,
the tendency that comes out in terms of a change in action urges,
sort of the jargon phrase we use is, is that people get playful.
You know, they, they kind of want to mix it up with others.
kind of, you know, be a little off the wall.
You know, that, that happy feeling, you know, comes with that tendency to play.
And one thing that's interesting about when people get playful,
they're actually learning.
They don't know they're learning but you're, you're kind of you know,
learning new connections with others or, you know you,
even in rough-and-tumble play people are learning physical skills and, or
the best hideouts [LAUGH] or you know, different things like that.
So anyway, the one that's probably closest to happy is joy, and
that's kind of an upbeat positive emotion.
That, within positive emotions there's also a lot of quieter ones.
Gratitude would be, you know, perhaps one of the quieter positive emotions.
Much more social.
the, the thing that makes gratitude stand apart from joy is that when
you take that good experience, that something good just happened to you and
you think oh, someone went out of their way to make that good thing happen.
>> Mm-hm. >> When that interpretation is added on to
joy, then it becomes gratitude.
It's like, oh, you did this?
You didn't have to do that.
I feel, you know, I cherish our friendship.
You know, and that sort of thing, that, that way in which,
seeing that someone else did something kind is the origin of the good thing.
And you know when people feel grateful they they,
they kind of want a creatively or, or find a way to give back.
You know or pay it forward to somebody else.
Or you know because it just inspires you to try to be
kind when you recognize kindness.
And so that's sort of a kind of a long-term stream of, of gratitude.
Another of the quieter positive emotions, would be serenity.
You know, just feeling like your current circumstances are so
right, that you just want to have more of this in your life.
And, you know, I think, in those moments, people,
you know, some emotion theorists had said, you know, oh, when people feel serene or
content, they just don't want to do anything.
I, I think what's happening is much more mental in that stage where
people are, are kind of savoring and integrating.
Saying, I would like to have more of this in my life please.
[LAUGH] You know, so even though there's not a,
there may not be a lot of action like, you know, that playful,
you know running around business, there's still a lot going on cognitively.
And that helps people know what they prioritize.
There's another positive emotion that a lot of people don't think of
as a positive emotion, is interest.
And I think sometimes people think emotions are rare and
interest is so common that that maybe it's not an emotion.
But I really think it is, it's, is, you know,
things, the circumstances are safe but there's some amount of novelty,
something that you haven't mastered yet that kind of draws you in.
Some kind of mystery kind of pulls you in.
And yet overall, you know it's a reasonably safe situation.
You know, it doesn't become anxiety producing.
When people feel that, they are kind of pulled in to explore,
and learn something new along the way.
One of my favorite positive emotions because it actually occurs in
situations where the circumstances are not positive at all, is hope.
You know it's like the next possible emotion might be despair.
So, you know, not all positive emotions happen in,
in circumstances that are are good.
You know, so with, with hope, it's kind of fearing the worst, but
yearning for better and that kind of situation fearing the worst, yearning for
better kind of pulls out people's inventiveness.
And and increases their resilience to, to hard times.
Pride is an, you know, you mentioned this earlier,
you know, in terms of feeling proud of your family members.
You know, whenever the, the circumstance that causes pride is a, a socially
valued achievement you know, something, not just you did something good but
you did something good that in our culture is valued and that kind of makes people
kind of come together and feel proud both either of themselves for doing something
that's valued by others or proud of another person for showing those values.
And you know, sometimes people say the action tendency of pride is to
just you know, boast or kind of just you know, stand tall, but
actually I think there's a lot more going on mentally with that and
it's that people start dreaming big and dreaming of the next thing.
Well if I could do that, then I could do this other thing so
it kind of unlocks this achievement motivation.
And you probably see this in school settings a lot, or
in sports settings, too.
So just to get through the rest of these positive emotions.
One another one is amusement.
And the, the, the part of amusement that I think is really amusing to me is that,.
>> Scientists have des,
described that what makes amusement is non-serious social incongruity.
[LAUGH] Which, >> Mm.
>> kind of takes all the fun out of it, doesn't it?
>> [LAUGH] >> So.
But basically it's like some mishap.
But it's non-serious.
And so it's not like you go and
rush to somebody's aid but when you just kind of make some kind of mishap and
that leads to amusement, shared laughter and creates connection.
Another positive emotion.
You have talked about using positivity to inspire.
I think that the circumstance that causes inspiration is
seeing human excellence on display.
>> And or a great talent that's worthy of your admiration.
And so, and that's a matter of interpretation.
I mean some people see people do good things and think, oh, ho-hum.
And others really frame it as, oh, that's an exemplar.
I'd like to be more like them.
And that sort of aspiring to one's own excellence in seeing
another person's excellence is really what's going on with, with inspiration.
There's another more cognitive positive emotion awe.
It's also a kind of a quiet one, it's sort of like feeling like you're in the,
in the presence of greatness on a large scale.
So it's kind of like inspiration might be a little more personal,
awe sometimes feels like I, that's the person feeling awe,
feel small relative to the grandness of what's, of what's happening here.
And it, it's that emotion that's really shaped around helping us
accommodate something new.
And they, they help, it helps us see ourselves as part of a larger whole.
You know, kind of knits us to something larger.
Now, I've, I've saved, I've, I've mentioned all of these positive emotions
in the order of their frequency in people's daily experience.
According to the research that we've done in our lab.
I mean, it's not definitive but
at least, you know, people tend to feel joy and gratitude the most.
The one exception that I made is I saved the best for last, love.
>> Mm-hm. Mm-hm.
>> Which is actually one of the most positi, or
most frequent positive emotions people experience.
And I think of that as kind of an all of the above positive emotion.
It's you know, it's feeling joy with others, it's feeling serene with others.
And so, and whenever a positive emotion is kind of co-experienced by two or
more people, that could equally be redescribed as love.
Now we'll, we'll talk a lot more about that later in the,
in the course, but one of the things I want to mention is that, you know,
the negativity bias is in, always present.
Scientists call that, sort of, bad is stronger than good.
There's another equally important asymmetry between positive and
negative, and that is, it goes under the heading of positivity offset.
And that is that positive experiences are actually more frequent than negative.
So there's that's what I think gives us a sense of
hope about all of this is that what's you know,
there's actual scientific evidence to show that the distribution of good and
bad events in people's lives, for the most part, favors the good.
There are many more good things going on.
Now whether we actually let those positive events become positive emotions,
that's kind of a matter of, of choice and training in a way.
But the most often people feel, a mild positive emotion.
If you kind of just want to take the average emotion that people feel
across their day.
unless, you know, you're depressed or anxious, or, you know,
going through a particularly hard time.
But, you know, average experience tends to be, on this positivity offset.
So, I mean, I'm just wondering if you guys have any, experiences or
connections that would kind of, capture either one of these asymmetries,
positivity offset or, you know.
>> Is there a such thing as neutral?
It seems, it seems like the positive ones that we maybe don't recognize might be
perceived as just neutral.
>> Exactly, yeah.
>> so, they don't recognize it because it's just neutral or
they feel that it's neutral?
>> Yeah, you know I think that that's a great question,
because you know just kind of like a fish doesn't see water.
You know if we're, if we feel interested a lot the the time we might
not see that as a positive emotion.
Or if we feel comfortable and
kind of you know, reasonably happy with this situation.
We kind of see it as nothing.
When I think, you know,
we can take that subtle, those subtle experiences and realize, oh,
yeah, that's this positive stuff, that's can start this upward spiral.
You know, this interest could get me, you know, going a lot further.
>> I find it interesting that the, positive events happen more frequent,
frequently than negative events and I think one of the things from my research
that I'm interested in exploring is, maybe that's what we can do to get people
to experience their relationships more fully, or positive emotions more fully,
is really just to take notice of the positive events that are already there.
And it's not really, it might not be about changing anything, but just noticing and
appreciating things that are there.
>> Exactly, exactly.
>> It reminds me of a new exercise that's going around the world and
I just started participating.
Where you get a jar or I grabbed a flower vase, and every
day you take a piece of paper and you jot down the good things that happened to you.
And then a year from now you read them.
>> So it's the same concept now you're being intentional in looking at
those positive activities for the day.
>> Yeah, great example.
>> We deal with kids in school too.
You look for these exceptions to the negative stuff, so
actually the positive stuff for them to attend to.
>> Which I haven't thought about because if I'm failing a class,
I've never done well.
But there's always some time that they have done better than that.
>> Mm-hm. >> And so if they focus on those,
it really helps them get active and some agency into doing something about it.