Positive Emotions: List, 90+ Examples, Theories, & Tips
What are positive emotions, what are the theories behind positive emotions, and what are some examples of positive emotions? Get a list and learn all about positive emotions here.
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Positive emotions are one of the most enjoyable parts of being alive. But what exactly are positive emotions? What effect do they have on our lives? And how can we experience more of them? In this article, we'll dive into positive emotions to learn more about the theories behind positive emotions and the experience of specific positive emotions.
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What Are Positive Emotions? (A Definition)
Positive emotions can be defined as pleasant multicomponent response tendencies. They are multicomponent because they involve more than just our internal feelings; they also include changes in our nervous system, hormones, facial expressions, thoughts, and more (Fredrickson & Cohn, 2008).
It's thought that the purpose (or function) of positive emotion is to facilitate approach behavior—it leads us to pursue things and move out into the world versus withdrawing (which is what sadness and anxiety lead us to do). Other people suggest that our experience of pleasantness is simply a mental assessment of our rate of goal attainment compared to our expected rate of goal attainment (Fredrickson & Cohn, 2008).
Positive emotion versus sensory pleasure and positive mood
Positive emotion is different than sensory pleasure (which is more about sexual pleasure, satisfying hunger and thirst, or remedying pain). Positive emotions are also distinguished from moods. Compared to moods, positive emotions generally arise as a result of some experience, they are short-lived, and they are closer to the forefront of our consciousness (Fredrickson & Cohn, 2008).
Types of positive emotions
All emotions are thought to exist on a continuum from very pleasant to very unpleasant (Fredrickson & Cohn, 2008). That being said, we use labels or adjectives to help communicate and understand our emotions. So I might say "I'm happy" or I might say "I'm sad" to indicate where I am on a continuum from pleasant to unpleasant emotion.
To better understand positive emotions, we also often think of positive emotions as either high-energy (e.g., excitement, joy) or low-energy (e.g., calm, content). Americans tend to value high-energy positive emotions more highly than low-energy ones (Fredrickson & Cohn, 2008). However, we also tend to be more motivated to get rid of bad experiences, like stress and anxiety, than increase good experiences. That means we also innately understand the benefits of low-energy positive emotions such as calm and relaxation.
The Importance of Positive Emotions
Positive emotions have been shown in research to contribute to all sorts of positive outcomes including longevity, improved immune function, less pain, and of course, improved well-being (Fredrickson & Cohn, 2008). Researchers may even use positive emotions as their measure of happiness, that's how closely related these things are. Indeed, positive emotions are considered essential for happiness, thriving, and flourishing.
Positive Emotions Ted Talk: The Positive Effects of Positive Emotions
Examples of Positive Emotions
There are lots of different positive emotions. And being able to identify a variety of emotions—also known as emotional granularity—can be good for our well-being. So here are some examples of positive emotions according to the emotion circumplex theory (Russell, 1980).
Examples of high-energy positive emotions:
Examples of low-energy positive emotions:
More examples of positive emotions
Here are more examples of positive emotions drawn from the Positive Affect Negative Affect Scale (PANAS), a commonly used measure of emotions (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988).
List of Positive Emotions
There is some question about where positive thoughts end and positive emotions begin. For example, gratitude is often considered to be a positive emotion, but can gratitude even exist without some type of thought? Rather than worry about where the line is between positive thought and positive emotion, we opted to provide an inclusive list of positive emotions. Some of them may involve more thoughts while others may seem to be more exclusively emotional. Where you draw the line is up to you.
Positive emotion list
List of Positive Emotions PDF
If you want this list as a word document or PDF, just download the files below.
Printable List of Positive and Negative Emotions
And here is a downloadable list of positive and negative emotions.
Positive Emotions in Psychology
Up until recently, research in psychology has mostly focused on negative emotions. That has made our understanding of positive emotions rather shallow or incomplete. For example, we think of negative emotions as discrete--sadness is different from anger is different from anxiety. But when it comes to positive emotions, we kind of lump them all together—joy, and contentment, and happiness are all kind of thought of as similar in our brains. Recently, however, psychology researchers have helped provide better clarity about the difference between positive emotions.
Barbara Fredrickson on positive emotions
Barbara Fredrickson, a leader of psychology research on positive emotion, offers us some insight into the differences between the key positive emotions of joy, interest, contentment, and love (Fredrickson, 1998).
Joy (~ happiness, amusement, exhilaration)
Joy arises in situations that are safe, familiar, and low effort. Experiencing joy is thought to result in a state referred to as 'free-activation'—or basically a readiness to engage in whatever comes—and it leads to a desire to play. As adults, playing may mean reading, using our imagination, or doing other creative activities. Joyful play can also help us build our social and emotional skills (Fredrickson, 1998).
Interest (~ curiosity, excitement, wonder, flow)
Interest arises in situations that offer novelty, change, and a sense of possibility. Interest also involves a sense that something is important and that we ought to pay attention and exert effort. Interest is thought to lead to exploration and the development of knowledge and personal growth (Fredrickson, 1998).
Contentment (~ tranquility, serenity, relief)
Contentment arises in safe situations with a high degree of certainty and a low degree of effort.
Some people suggest that contentment leads us to savor our circumstances and experience a sense of 'oneness' with the world. In other words, it results in a mindful broadening of a person's self-views and world views (Fredrickson, 1998).
Love (~romantic love, companionate love, caregiver love)
Barbara Fredrickson (1998) argues that love merges joy, interest, and contentment. More specifically, our loved ones stimulate experiences that lead to these other positive emotions. That means that love can lead us to be playful, to grow personally, and to broaden our worldview.
Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions
Based on Dr. Fredrickson's understanding of joy, interest, contentment, and love, she then proposed that positive emotions have something in common: They broaden our thoughts and actions and build personal, social, and intellectual resources. Over time, this may lead to an upward spiral of positive emotion. This theory is now known as the broaden and build theory of positive emotions (Fredrickson, 1998).
This model is based on research that shows:
Video: Barbara Fredrickson on Positive Emotions
20 Ways to Boost Positive Emotions
Given the many benefits of positive emotions, we're greatly benefited by finding ways to increase them. Luckily, there are so many different ways we can boost positive emotions. Here are a few strategies to try:
Positive Emotion Affirmations
If you're someone who likes to use affirmations, here are some affirmations to help you generate positive emotions:
Check out our article for even more positive daily affirmations.
Positive Emotions Music
Here is some music that may help you generate some positive emotions, especially a sense of calm and contentment.
More Articles Related to Positive Emotions
Want to gain even more insights related to emotions? Here are a few helpful articles:
Books on Positive Emotions
Want to read more? Here are some good books to choose from.