The Science of Happiness: How Positive Emotions Impact Your Well-Being

The Science of Happiness: How Positive Emotions Impact Your Well-Being is a course designed to explore the roots of a meaningful life. Students will engage with some of the most intriguing and practical lessons from this emerging field and see how cutting-edge research can apply directly to their lives.

1. Positive Emotions Are Good for Your Heart

Evolving positive emotions like gratitude, mindfulness and love can lower your risk of heart disease by decreasing stress and anxiety levels. Furthermore, these positive emotions may reduce the likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke and increase longevity – adding years to life!

Though modern psychology explores the science of happiness, there remain significant disagreements on what exactly constitutes contentment. Some psychologists argue that hedonic pleasure does not matter while others argue it must come through meaningful work or personal growth for true joy to exist.

Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas are two leading experts in happiness research who will make the science enjoyable and accessible to you. You’ll experience research-backed happiness practices each week while discovering how you can apply the lessons of this innovative field of study in your own life.

2. Positive Emotions Are Good for Your Brain

Negative emotions certainly have their place (anger can help protect against danger, while fear can alert us of impending danger), but positive emotions have their own advantages: they boost cognition, increase learning potential and even foster greater creativity.

Aristotle famously distinguished between pleasure and eudaimonia (purpose and engagement). While modern psychology tends to prioritize these components of happiness over pleasure-oriented emotions such as those produced by hedonic components like meaning. Recent brain research is also showing the importance of pleasure-related emotions (or “hedonomy”).

Positive emotions activate similar reward pathways in the brain as negative ones; however, their activation tends to be less intense and last for longer, helping you remain on task even during challenging times. Try this exercise: Think back on a time you felt anger or fear and pay attention to how it feels physically in your body and the urge you feel to act; now imagine something positive such as sunshine or seeing your child smiling, then notice how this makes you feel instead.

3. Positive Emotions Are Good for Your Mood

Positive emotions help bring you back more quickly to a state of equilibrium after experiencing negative ones (physical sensations such as anger or fear, or feeling choked up), while simultaneously building your stress coping bank so you’ll be stronger when faced with challenges in life.

Think back to when you last felt anger or anxiety and notice its physical manifestations and the response impulse it elicited in your body (such as wanting to fight or flee). Now consider how different feelings like joy or gratitude feel, or the recurring urges you feel towards doing things you enjoy with someone.

Micro-moments of positive emotion broaden and build your thinking and long-term psychological resources like resilience; they create upward spirals toward increased emotional well-being in the future – this is what Fredrickson refers to as her broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions.

4. Positive Emotions Are Good for Your Body

Researchers have demonstrated that engaging with positive emotions like gratitude, love and happiness can reduce heart disease risk, enhance immune function, lower weight, decrease smoking rates and even extend lifespan. Furthermore, people who regularly experience positive emotions tend to be more resilient against stressful experiences, quickly recovering.

The Broaden and Build Theory suggests that positive emotions broaden one’s thought-action repertoire and, thus, produce a more flexible autonomic nervous system, helping undo negative emotions’ narrowing and activating effects to return the body to cardiovascular baseline.

Positive emotions also encourage wider patterns of behavior, including urges to play and explore, which humans evolved to recognize as opportunities to build personal resources over time. Over time, our ancestors would have amassed greater reserves when faced with imminent danger to life and limb.

5. Positive Emotions Are Good for Your Health

Researchers funded by the NIH have discovered that your outlook on life can have an immense effect on your health. Individuals with positive outlooks tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, more active lifestyles, and an overall healthier body weight.

Negative emotions serve an essential purpose, like protecting us from danger or seeking justice through anger and fear, but can sometimes linger beyond their usefulness, producing unnecessary irritability and increases in heart rate and blood pressure. Laboratory experiments demonstrate that stimulating positive emotions such as joy or amusement helps alleviate their negative aftereffects and accelerate cardiovascular recovery to normal speeds more quickly.

Positive psychology emphasizes two components of well-being as integral components of happiness: pleasure and engagement with meaning. Though these may appear separate in theory, Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory posits (2001). Our CE partner R Cassidy Seminars is offering this course for continuing education credits.

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