Despite feeling very personal, emotions are not a private experience. Emotions impact relationships, career advancement, parenting, and sense of self-worth. How successfully you handle daily challenges is greatly affected by your current emotional state. For example, when you feel gloomy or sad, you are more likely to negatively interpret even normal events. When things go wrong, it can feel like less of a personal affront if you’re already in a happy mood.
Emotions are embodied, meaning they don’t just happen in your brain or in your heart, they involve neurotransmitters and release of chemicals and are, in fact, extremely complex. Think back to a time where you walked into a room where bad news had just been received. The energy is palpable—you can feel the low mood of those around you. This is also true when someone is so excited that his or her enthusiasm feels contagious.
When something that we perceive as bad, negative, or scary happens, the chemicals our body releases are much stronger than the chemicals of joy. This means we feel negative more powerfully than we feel positive. In order to take full advantage of our positive emotions, we actually have to focus on them in a concentrated way to avoid perceiving them as neutral rather than positive.
There are 10 common positive emotions, which are listed below in order of most frequent to least frequent. Each one is coupled with an action that you can use to increase the amount felt as well as the potential outcome of heightening your awareness of the emotion.
Love is one of the most commonly felt of all of 10 positive emotions, and perhaps the most difficult to describe. It encompasses, to some degree, little bits of the other nine positive emotions. Love has been described as an intense feeling of deep affection or the experience of putting someone else’s well-being ahead of your own. It also happens when you remember that you share a common humanity with the rest of the world. Love is often physically felt as an expansion in the heart or chest region, and as a softening behind the eyes or a swelling of the throat.
Love allows healing, encourages bravery, and bonds us in a way that enhances greatness, dreams, and growth.
Loving yourself is a way to heighten your experience of this emotion. All too often we extend our love to family, friends, and pets, but not to ourselves. Focus on your own heart and fill it with love for all you are and all you do.
Joy is the positive emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune. Feelings of elation or exhilaration occur. Joy is similar to bubbles in champagne—they make an already-good thing even better.
Doing something that feels like play to you is a great catalyst for joy. Take a hike, go for a swim, throw a party, or paint a picture. Play looks different for each individual, so learn what feels most playful to you and schedule time doing it.
Gratitude is a sense of reverence for something you have been given. Focusing your attention on how you receive helps to increase the power of gratitude. Being able to receive graciously is part of the universal law of giving and receiving, which strengthens social bonds.
Develop a gratitude practice. Try listing your favorite moment of the day or thanking someone each daily for something they do for you that you might otherwise have taken for granted.
Serenity requires low amounts of effort and allows a feeling of safety and comfort. When you savor serenity, you help make that moment last. By becoming aware of it, you actually increase its potency.
When you have a peaceful moment, close your eyes briefly, and allow yourself to sink deeply into the physical sensations that accompany the moment.
Interest happens when you explore something that fascinates you. When you gain knowledge, this curiosity to know more actually increases in an upward spiral that can encourage you to keep exploring. Interest comes in a vast array of activities and can involve actually participating in an activity or simply learning about something.
Notice patterns in what you’re curious about and take action. Take a class, sign up for a webinar, or attend a conference.
Hope is often borne out of a bad experience when instead of giving up, you look and believe there will be a better future. Hope plants the seeds of resilience and allows us to see that yesterday and today don’t dictate tomorrow. Hope is the hot ash left that allows your inner fire to reignite.
The practice of finding a little good in every situation magnifies potential feelings of hope when something negative happens.
Pride is the sense of pleasure for attaining a socially valued achievement. Being proud promotes further achievement and encourages you to think big. Pride has sometimes been viewed as a negative emotion; as long as you don’t use pride in comparing yourself to others, it can help to increase your sense of self-worth.
Take time to think of your best attributes and own them. Be grateful for your skills, and acknowledge where you are still learning. Remember to have pride in something you put effort towards as opposed to something that comes naturally.
Amusement is pleasure in a lighthearted way. A funny movie, a pleasurable conversation, or witty wordplay are just a few examples of sources of amusement. It’s no surprise that when men and women list their top desired traits in a partner, sense of humor tops the list.
Be intentional and make amusement part of your regular diet. Watch a comedy, laugh with your children, ride a roller coaster, or dance it out.
Inspiration happens when you witness excellence and then aspire to it. Ignite your personal goals—the enthusiasm will drive you to pursue excellence.
Check in with your habits and notice if there is an area that feels stagnant or settled; then shake it up by setting a new goal or doing things differently.
Awe happens when you are overwhelmed by greatness. Nature, music, or art are three areas that are trigger feelings of awe. When we feel a sense of awe, it connects us to others sharing our experience and to the world around us.
Take a walk and notice the beauty that surrounds you every day and that often goes unnoticed. A flower garden, a tall tree, the night sky, or rainbows are all things that can spark that feeling.
Flourishing doesn’t mean you have to be happy all the time. In fact, feeling a full range of emotions is healthy. People who truly flourish are able to find a good emotion amid chaos just as they can find one in times of ease.
Your emotions are always within your control. With just a bit of focused awareness you will discover all 10 and make them part of your personal recipe for emotional balance.