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 each positive emotion tends to have its own dynamic.
You know, its its got its unique kind of situation that it stems from, and
its unique kind of action urges that, you know, motivates us to want to do.
And, and, and also they have unique things that they they build in our lives too.
If we take all of the different kind of action urges that go with
the positive emotions that we just talked about.
For joy it's play.
For gratitude it would be creative giving.
Just going down the list.
Savor and integrate, explore, yearn for a positive change, dream big.
Get new insight, aspire to excellence.
These, you know, have a different flavor to them than the kinds of action urges
that go with negative emotions, which, you know, are things like attack, flee, spit.
[LAUGH] You know, get, get whatever it is that disgusts you out of your mouth.
so, it's, it's kind of easy to see how the negative emotions would those
actions attack, flee, fight or flight would have been useful for our ancestors.
but, you know, how do you how do you see these things being potentially useful?
I mean what's the value of exploring, of dreaming big,
of, you know, coming up with a new insight.
I mean these are.
And in one way is that, the negative emotions get us to do one thing,
the one thing that was, you know, perhaps the best answer for
our ancestors when they, you know, faced a threat to life or limb.
But positive emotions aren't about getting you to do one thing,
they're about kind of broadening your perspective.
And getting you to be open to do maybe ten different things.
There's a number of things that might fit into this situation.
So they, they kind of.
I mean, negative emotions kind of have this clampdown.
[LAUGH] Kind of, you know they, they really put blinders on us and
get us to want to do one thing but
positive emotions kind of pull those blinders away and, and, and broaden us.
So. >> I'm just
thinking about kids learning in school and our school environments in general.
If teachers could have more positive classrooms, the kind of things you
describe about exploring and interest and all that would be a beneficial thing.
>> Right, exactly.
So it's like that, that foundation,
that emotional soil that you create in a classroom setting is either going to,
you know, help people be in that kind of flexible mode versus, versus not.
>> I'm reminded of that cliche survive and thrive.
>> So the negativity might be more on the survival even though that
the positive is as well.
But thriving that's where the positive is.
>> Yeah, yeah.
>> So getting into your mission and
your purpose in life you want to thrive, you want to really excel.
That's where the positivity kicks in.
>> Right. So it's it's a great example of how,
you know, negative emotions could be about saving your skin,
getting you through this terrible moment.
Positive emotions really aren't about saving your skin in this moment,
they're about preparing you for the next moments, you know.
So this is where I feel like they,
that the time scale of negative and positive emotions is just so different.
Negative emotions, the adaptive benefit is like right in the here and
now and for at least for our, our ancestors, you know,
the negative emotions aren't always adaptive in the here and now for us today.
But positive emotions, their benefit doesn't show up when you feel them.
>> It shows up down the road and it shows up down the road in step with how
frequently you've felt that positive emotion or, or range of positive emotions.
So whereas negative emotions are really about time present.
Positive emotions are really about time future.
You know, they, they, they help us become better versions of ourselves.
So, these are, are two ideas that I've encapsulated within this
theoretical approach that I've developed called the broaden and build theory.
>> Mm-hm. >> So that, you know,
positive emotions in the moment that we experience them broaden our mindsets.
The value of that broadened mindset is that,
the more moments we have of that broadened mindset.
The more we build our resources and
change who we are, fundamentally change who we are and
become a more resilient, more resourceful, more connected version of ourselves.
So there's kind of like these, these two aspects of,
of positive emotions on these two different timescales.
The one of the, there's lot of different metaphors that I think fit here.
I like to compare these moments of positive emotions.
These, they can, they can last just seconds sometimes to nutrients.
You know, it's like, you know if people want to be healthy, they can't eat
like one stem of broccoli in, in this particular year and expect to be healthy.
I think my kids think they would.
>> [LAUGH] >> You know,
that, that one vegetable that they ate last month would do.
[LAUGH] But, no, we need to have a lot.
I mean the number keeps raising for fruits and vegetables, right?
You know, we have to you know get dozens in a day.
But you know, positive emotions are kind of like that.
We need the nutrients that they offer in terms of that, that, that way
in which they enlarge our minds in able, in, in order to, to grow and change and
be, kind of, the most healthiest, most resourceful versions of ourselves.
So, nutrients is one metaphor I like to use.
I also like to use this, you know, metaphor of the tiny engines.
It's, it's, it's the, these they drive our growth, but they're a very
a small driver of that growth and you just need multiple experiences of that.
You know, I have this one slide that I've used in, in lectures and
teaching of an engine that fits on the tip of your finger.
You know, it's like, that's almost invisible.
But it's you know, you can make an engine that small.
You know and emotions are kind of like that.
They, they positive emotions are, they're subtle, they're fleeting.
You can often overlook them, but they're powerful drivers of who we become.
So I don't know if they're points of
connection to you have your own metaphors or.
>> Your nutrient one is really on with what we do at counseling in
preparing counselors is.
We help them understand they're not mechanics, but they're gardeners.
>> Because they come into the field wanting to fix kids and think that
they can fix things but it's really more growing those positive attributes and
strengths that they do have.
So it fits right with the nutrient idea.
>> Oh, that's great, great example.
You've now encountered foundational facts about positive emotions,
the tiny engines that positive psychology.
Now it's time to rev those engines.
My friend, the late Christopher Peterson,
author of one of the very first textbooks in positive psychology, was famous for
pointing out that positive psychology is not a spectator sport.
To learn it you need to get in the game and experience it for yourself.
So I strongly encourage you to begin incorporating the ideas that
you've already encountered into your own life to get a sense of their true impact.
An exercise to get you started is to select one of the ten positive
emotions that we've discussed and build a positivity portfolio around it.
This is a collection of heartfelt images and mementos that you gather that,
when you take time with them, truly serve to generate that emotion in you.
Students in my classes here at UNC find this to be a fun and
intrinsically rewarding assignment.
And that's why I've made it your first experiential assignment here.
The intentionality of this exercise combats the fact that
positive emotions are subtle and
fleeting and that the opportunities to experience them are easy to miss.
You can also combat negativity bias by committing to savor positive experiences.
Take time to breathe them in so that they flower into positive emotions.
Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness, suggests that pausing to let
good events sink in for ten to twenty seconds allows them to become part of you.
And this habit can rewire your brain
to create a lasting positive psychology inside of you.
And this is a simple shift in mindset that you can start right now.