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Positive Emotions


Explanations > Emotions > Positive Emotions

Joy | Gratitude | Serenity | Interest | Hope | Pride | Amusement | Inspiration | Awe | Love | Altruism | Satisfaction | Relief | So what


Much attention is paid to negative emotions and it often seems that there are relatively few positive emotions, yet this can be as much about attention and experience that anything. Psychology has also tended in the past to the medical view of fixing problems rather than the positive side of life. Positive emotion may be considered as any feeling where there is a lack of negativity, such that no pain or discomfort is felt.

Frederickson (2009) identifies the ten most common positive emotions as joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love. She also noted that we really need a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative in order to have a good life.

There are also other positive emotions we can consider, for example the emotion felt when helping others (this does not seem to have a clear word so is called altruism here). In addition, satisfaction and relief are discussed.

Here is a brief discussion on each of these.


'Joy' is a common term that is used to describe the spectrum of happiness, from gentle comfort to ecstatic bliss. As a positive emotion, it is probably the most common one to be identified and also the one that is most commonly sought. Joy is often short-term, appearing quickly and also fading fast. Overall happiness can be increased by finding more things to be joyful about.

Joy can be found in many of the other positive emotions, all of which are linked to 'being happy', yet it is useful to separate them out for individual consideration.


Gratitude is one of the strongest correlates with happiness. Simply by being grateful for what you have, you are focusing on the positive, as opposed to being unhappy about what you do not have. Expressing gratitude multiplies this as it not only reinforces the internal positive attitude but it both gains the altruistic pleasure of helping others and may be reflected in their 'gratitude for gratitude' and how they seek to make you happy in future.


Serenity is the calm of being content with what you have. It is an Epicurean pleasure in the way Epicurus defined pleasure as the absence of pain. Serenity is linked with higher spiritual states where the person feels at one with the universe and neither a victim nor a beneficiary of fate.


We have interest in those things that will help us to meet needs and achieve our goals. Interest is also sparked by novelty which piques our curiosity and so creates inquiry arousal. Just taking an interest in what is going on around you and in the world at large gives space for the pleasure of discovery to appear.


Hope is anticipatory happiness. It is the pleasure of an assumed future where good things happen and you will experience joy or other positive emotions. Hope is associated with optimism and our natural bias towards this can bring happiness into an unhappy situation as we think about how things can only get better.


Pride can have both negative and positive sides. A prideful person is arrogant and concerned with their status over others. They may feel happy, but at the expense of others. The more positive form of pride is typified by the pride in one's work or one's team. It is a 'purer' form of pride as it is intrinsically felt and is not negative about other people.


Amusement happens when we find something funny, from jokes to the incongruous nature of the world around us. Humor is an easy way of connecting with others and a shared sense of amusement is a helpful social bond. Being easily amused is also not to take things too seriously, especially ourselves. If you can laugh at your own mistakes then you can be happy forever.


Inspiration is what we feel when we see consummate skill or hear a great speech, and are inspired to do something as a result of this. In this way, inspiration is a strong motivational force and can be very powerful for changing minds. Leaders in particular will use this, particularly when using charismatic and transformational styles of leadership.


Awe is the feeling you get when you see a wonderful sunset or landscape. It is what you feel when you experience great art and marvel at the skill of the artist. This can be achieved through appreciation of painting, performance or some other creative expression. Awe can also be spiritual as you wonder at the marvels of the infinite universe or the totality of your god. Awe can come just from openness to experience. When you think of the wonders around you and even within you, you can just feel in awe of it all.


Love is a hugely powerful emotion which we first experience as an infant from our parents or carers. It is also complex and there are several forms that may or may not seek reciprocation. The purest form is unconditional love, seeking to give but not to receive (romantic love seeks both to give and to get affection).


Altruism is the pleasure of helping other people. It is related to love but is not quite the same, although it can be seen as being based on the love of humanity. Helping people, even strangers, is a very powerful method for gaining happiness and has strong social value as well as proving us as 'higher beings' who are not solely driven by selfish motivations.


Satisfaction is the pleasure of meeting challenges and achieving goals. It is related both to pride and serenity and is a low-activation emotion (in contrast to states of higher arousal such as inspiration). The opposite of satisfaction is dissatisfaction and the betrayal impact of this is known by many companies who have not satisfied their customers.


When we feel threatened, then we feel relief when the threat is avoided as we 'dodge the bullet'. We also feel relief when we are feeling uncomfortable about something, from being ill to revising for exams, and the uncomfortable period finishes. We sometimes talk about a 'blessed relief', which reflects the positive feeling as we contrast the comfort now with the recent discomfort.

So what?

Persuasion can be based both in negative such as fear, neutral ones such as surprise and also avaricious desire. However perhaps the most effective emotions are the positive ones. If you can offer happiness as a reward then it is more effective than the sadness that is suggested by fear motivators.

See also

Positive Psychology, Ways to Happiness


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