Chapter 13: Positive Emotions

Summary of Positive Emotions

We have covered a lot about positive emotions!  Before summarizing, I would like to discuss some current challenges with investigating positive emotions (as compared to negative emotions).


The first problem is that researchers disagree on the number of discrete positive emotions.  And some researchers use different names for the same emotion.  For instance, are contentment, tranquility, and serenity the same emotions?  We just don’t know yet!  Similarly, some positive emotions might include negative feelings, so should they be considered positive or mixed emotions?  Or are these emotions positive because people avoid a potentially negative outcome?  Some of these may be awe, hope, relief, and nostalgia.


We may not know these answers yet because it’s harder to investigate positive emotions than negative emotions. And thus, we simply know less about the component changes of distinct positive emotions. As we saw in physiological changes, positive emotions just show less physiological changes than negative emotions.  We have fewer distinct behavior changes for discrete positive emotions.  Studies on cognitive appraisals include a large number of appraisal dimensions that vary greatly across positive emotions.  Positive emotions cause approach behavior, but might also cause avoidance behaviors.  Component changes just are not as clear cut as negative emotions.


Broaden-and-build theory gave us lots of information on how positive emotions improve our life satisfaction, but Gruber and colleagues also outlined the negative outcomes of positive emotions.  So, what level of positive emotions is best for our happiness and satisfaction?  Early work by Fredrickson and Losada (2005) suggested a ratio of 3 positive to 1 negative emotion to achieve happiness, but this has since been debunked by a graduate student (Brown et al., 2013).


To watch Fredrickson’s TED talk on this positivity ratio, watch this 2011  video from the Greater Good Science Center.

For an interesting read about how the study was debunked, read The Scientist’s article, “Positivity Ratio Debunked: Two Psychologists and a Physicist Take Down a 2005 Paper Proposing a Gauge to Human Happiness”


For Fredrickson’s retraction of her findings and her correction to Fredrickson and Losada (2005), read the Fredrickson and Losada (2013) abstract here.


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