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This post is by associate Triage Practitioner, and guest blogger, Matthew Savage 

Happiness and wellbeing refer to positive feelings such as joy and serenity and positive states such as flow and absorption (Gruber & Moskowitz, 2014). Positive psychology is a focus on understanding happiness, subjective wellbeing and factors that influence these. Positive affectivity is based on joviality, self-assurance and attentiveness and is often something that takes some years to discover (Diener, 2000). It is a term used to describe the human characteristic of experiencing positive affect and is responsive to an individual’s personality traits, interactions with their environment and outlook on life. Positive affectivity includes behaviours and personality traits such as extraversion, and this has been correlated with reward behaviours like finding food, shelter, and a mate on a basic level. Positive affectivity is also associated with regular exercise, sleep, socialisation and striving for valued goals (Watson, 2002). Positive emotions facilitate creative tolerant thinking and productivity (Diener, 2000) and positive affect is classed as a major component of happiness. Positive emotions prepare us for something good and broaden our attention to be open to new ideas and practices and to be more creative than usual (Fredrickson, 2005). This leads to win-win situations where both parties gain. Wright (2000) argues that striving to increase win-win situations will lead to happier, more progressive civilisations.

Negative affectivity is, of course, the opposite of positive affectivity. It is a regular feature of low mood and includes traits such as neuroticism, and this leads to avoidance type behaviours to avoid pain. Negative emotions prepare us for fight or flight and to “win” a situation on a more primitive level. However, there are often no winners or loser’s in situations today that lead to low mood, such as worries over a deadline, and so net gain in happiness can occur. This becomes a loss-loss situation and can lead to a spiral of negative affect. Negative emotions include highly focused, defensive, critical thinking and decision making and objectivity is needed to detect what is wrong and eliminate it. It often leads to a phenomenon known as depressive realism, whereby depressed people are understood to be more accurate judges of skills and positive and negative things that have happened to them (Ackermann and DeRubeis, 1991). It is believed depressed people judge their control of events more accurately than non-depressed people (Adelson, 2005) and, although this may initially seem like a good thing to some, it often leads to clinical depression as this leads to less pleasure-seeking activity. Happier people make better life choices as they seek out health risk-related information (Aspinwall et al, 2001) and so are more likely to make positive changes in their lives, despite a lack of accuracy in the judgement of events.

What traits are related to high levels of personal affectivity?

Identifying factors that contribute to happiness is not a simple matter (Diener 2000) but those with high personal affectivity typically have several stable traits which are expressed more often (Gruber & Moskowitz (2014). These include:

  • Enthusiasm
  • Energy and drive
  • Confidence
  • Excitement
  • Joy

Consider how often we express or feel these emotions can then help us to understand what activities make us feel this way. Increasing those activities may be a simple way of boosting the positive feelings in your life and raising positive affect.

What else can we do to develop positive affectivity?

Professor Barbara Fredrickson’s (2002) broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions suggests that positive effective experiences not only signal personal well-being but also contribute to personal growth and development. Positive emotions can lead to broadening awareness which can encourage exploratory thought and actions. Broadening of momentary thought-action leads to building personal resources, such as new physical, mental and social resources, and this then leads to personal growth, enhanced health, and building a more fulfilling life. Negative thought simply narrows the momentary thought-action repertoires, leading to self-protective actions and less opportunity to build useful skills and psychological resources (Diener, 2000). There is much support for this theory from clinical and laboratory studies (Fredrickson, 2002; Isen, 2000) as well as developmental studies. These findings have shown that securely attached children were more likely to show higher levels of exploratory behaviour in novel situations, more curiosity and openness to new information, compared to insecure attachment styles.

The theory offers practical ideas to broaden and build your life in fulfilling ways. Some suggestions include:

  • Problem-solving experiences are relatively enduring outcomes of joy and contribute to personal transformation and development.
  • Contentment in life may create an urge to contemplate life circumstances and lead to new and more positive ways of viewing ourselves in the world around us (Diener, 2000)
  • Taking a creative approach - Positive emotions can facilitate creativity in problem-solving and this increases work productivity. According to a number of studies, happy people retain better valuations and higher pay compared to less happy people (Straw et al, 1994). Being creative in the way you approach problems is an important approach to improve positive affect.
  • Social participation – People who spend more time socialising with a small group of trusted friends benefit from higher positive affect levels.
  • Personal effectiveness training – self-help ideas and concepts dealing with success, goals, and positive psychology have shown to be very helpful at developing skills that can increase feelings of positive affect.
  • Adding more positive events to the day – practicing self-care through meditation, taking a relaxing bath, a walk through nature, watching a comedy film or practicing gratitude can all build more positive affect into our lives.
  • Be more altruistic – studies show that helping others triggers many positive emotions.

In conclusion, more positive emotions, and small positive acts each day can lead to more opportunity to build up our resiliency over time and our coping skills. This will boost our positive affect and help us develop a more fulfilling life.

About Matt Savage

Matthew Savage is an associate Triage Practitioner, has an MSc in Psychology, is a qualified personal trainer, and has worked within the field of cognitive rehabilitation for 5 years. He is an FA qualified football coach, with a keen interest in moral behaviour and wellbeing within team sports. 

References 

Ackermann, R., & DeRubeis, R. J. (1991). Is depressive realism real? Clinical Psychology Review, 11(5), 565–584. https://doi.org/10.1016/0272-7358(91)90004-E

Adelson N. The embodiment of inequity: health disparities in aboriginal Canada. Can J Public Health. 2005;96 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):S45-S61. doi:10.1007/BF03403702

Diener, E. (2000). Subjective well-being: The science of happiness and a proposal for a national index. American Psychologist, 55(1), 34–43. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.34

Fredrickson BL, Branigan C. Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought-action repertoires. Cogn Emot. 2005;19(3):313-332. doi:10.1080/02699930441000238

Fredrickson BL. The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2004;359(1449):1367-1378. doi:10.1098/rstb.2004.1512

Gruber, J., Devlin, H. C., & Moskowitz, J. T. (2014). Seeing it all: The light and dark sides of positive emotion. In J. Gruber & J. T. Moskowitz (Eds.), Positive emotion: Integrating the light sides and dark sides (p. 3–8). Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199926725.003.0001

Isen, A. M. (2000). Positive affect and decision making. In M. Lewis, & J. Haviland (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (pp. 417-435) (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.

Watson J. Intentionality and caring-healing consciousness: a practice of transpersonal nursing. Holist Nurs Pract. 2002;16(4):12-19. doi:10.1097/00004650-200207000-00005

Wright R. (2000). Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. Vintage. NY. USA.

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