Thinking and emotion go hand in hand. It seems that a negative mood activates negative thinking and a positive mood calls forth positive thinking. Does it matter if you are in a negative mood thinking negative thoughts or in a positive mood thinking positive thoughts? Is one better than the other? What is the advantage in thinking and feeling positive?
Emotions Have Evolutionary Value
Negative emotions have evolutionary value. Negative emotions like fear, loss, and aggression activate the flight or fight response. When we experience negative emotions, we have a feeling of aversion, which sets us on course to identify what is wrong and eliminate it. Negative emotions and thinking are associated with a survival alert that activates a reaction to fight, flight or conserve – each reaction with obvious evolutionary value.
Positive emotions also have evolutionary advantage. They “broaden and build.” Experiencing positive emotions increases our survival chances because positive emotions broaden our intellectual, physical, and social resources and build reserves for us to draw upon.
Experiencing positive emotions increases our drive for exploration and discovery and provides the basis for positive social interactions. When we experience positive emotions, we become more tolerant, expansive, and creative. The more positive emotion we experience the more open to new ideas and new experiences we become.
Negative emotions narrow our perspective to focus only on the immediate threat. When negative emotions are experienced, we withdraw, freeze, or protect. When we experience positive emotions, we feel safe and engage in active, playful exploration, and discovery. Negative emotions contract and positive emotions expand.
Positive emotions form the experiential foundation for mentally healthy people. Positive emotions provide a foundation for growth and exploration and build the intellectual, social, and physical capital for further growth and development.
When we experience negative emotions, they tell us to deal with what is wrong and eliminate it. When we experience positive emotions, we start looking for the virtues of what is happening. We become constructive, generous, un-defensive, and open to seeing possibilities.
Experiencing positive emotions gives us an entirely different way of thinking from a negative mood. A negative mood helps us think about and detect threats in our environment and focus our thoughts on protection. A positive mood moves us into thoughts about growth and development, exploration and discovery.
Positive Emotions Build Resources and Capital for the Future
Positive emotions build the resources and capital that will become the basis for growth and development in years to come. When we feel and think positive, we reach outward and broaden our resources through exploration and discovery. We are more creative, think quicker, and do not succumb to premature closure or other forms of superficial intellectual processing.
Depressed people experience what is called a “downward spiral” of negative emotions. Depressed emotions call forth negative memories that feed more negative thoughts, that feed more negative memories, that feed more depressed emotions. Breaking this downward spiral is crucial to stopping the depression.
Psychologists have found what they call an upward spiral of positive emotion. Positive emotions produce a different way of thinking and acting. The thinking becomes creative and broad-minded, and the actions become adventurous and exploratory. This increased creativity and exploration results in greater expansion.
Often negative emotions and thinking are taken more seriously because traditionally they have been believed to be the evolutionary backbone of human motivation. It was believed that people are motivated primarily to avoid experiencing negative emotions and that positive motivation was merely superficial.
But positive emotions are just as real, authentic and important as negative emotions and are equally important for development, growth, and success.
Positive Emotions Lead to More Successful Interactions in the World
Experiencing more positive emotion results in more friendships, stronger love, better physical health, and more successful interactions in the world accompanied by a sense of mastery. Growth, positive development, and creative and successful interactions in the world (i.e. mental health) may have their foundations in the experience of positive emotions and thinking.
Happy people view themselves subjectively as more successful in the world. Happy people remember more good events than actually happened and forget more of the bad events that happened Happy people see success as lasting, personal and pervasive and failure as impersonal, temporary and specific. Happy people may lose a bit of realism but this does not lock them into ineffective functioning. Happy people are more likely to switch tactics when involved in a task that appears to be failing. In the normal course of events, happy people rely on their tried and true positive past experiences while less happy people are more skeptical. However, when events are threatening, happy people, more readily than less happy people, switch tactics and adopt a skeptical and analytical frame of mind. Happy people can deal better with adversity.
Happier people are markedly more satisfied with their jobs than less happy people. Happiness inceases productivity and results in higher income. Happiness also makes gainful employment and higher income more likely. Both adults and children who are in a good mood select higher goals, perform better, and persist longer on a variety of tasks.
Happy People Are Healthier
Positive emotions result in better physical health. Positive emotions predict health and longevity and protect people from the wear and tear of aging. Positive emotions strongly predict who lives longer, who dies earlier, and who will become disabled. Happy people are more likely to seek out and make use of health risk information. Happy people have better health habits, lower blood pressure, and stronger immune systems than less happy people. They endure pain better and take more health and safety precautions when threatened. Positive emotions and thinking prolong life and improve health.
Happy People Are More Connected With Others
Very happy people differ markedly from average people and from unhappy people in one principle way – a rich and fulfilling social life and more secure relationships. Happy people have more close and casual friends, are more likely to be married, and are more involved in group activities than unhappy people. Happy people are also more altruistic. When we are in a good mood we are less focused on ourselves, we like others more and we want to be kinder and share our good fortune with others. However, when we are experiencing negative emotions and thinking we become distrustful, turn inward and become defensive about our own needs.
Focusing on Positive Emotions
Positive emotions undo negative emotions and reduce the negative physical and psychological stresses of negative experiences. Negative emotions tell you that you are facing a win-loss encounter and need to take steps to engage with the obstacles. Positive emotions and thinking tell you that you are in a potential win-win situation.
Positive emotions and thinking guide you to be more expansive, tolerant, and creative and maximize the social, intellectual, and physical benefits of the situation. Positive emotions and thoughts provide both the fuel and the raw material for experiencing more growth and development, more exploration and discovery, more mastery and successful interactions in the world. So, yes, there is a great deal of value in feeling good and positive thinking. Go for it!
Copyright (c) 2007 Mary Ann Copson