The Far Reaching Effects of Positive Emotions

by Sanya Pelini July 26, 2021

girl and boy smiling

Positive experiences don’t just make us feel good in the present; they transform our lives in profound ways. People who feel good live longer, more fulfilling lives.

Evidence suggests that positive emotions are quite powerful. They can increase focus and attention, make it easier to process information, help develop resilience and optimism, improve cognitive abilities, and foster creativity. According to the positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson, positive emotions build an individual's physical, intellectual, psychological, and social resources which can be drawn on later during difficult moments.

In a study printed in American Scientist, researchers analyzed the handwritten autobiographies of 180 nuns. The nuns were aged between 75 and 95 but had written the autobiographies while in their 20s. The researchers analyzed the emotional content and recorded how often the nuns wrote about instances of happiness, interest, love, and hope. The findings revealed that the most positive nuns lived up to 10 years longer than the most negative ones.

In other words, positive emotions act as a buffer during difficult times. We now know that feeling good is good for us, but how can we help our kids feel good? Here are a few suggestions based on positive psychology research.

1 | Cultivate joy today and everyday

Joy has often been associated with playfulness. In his book “The Emotions,” Nico Henri Frijda speaks of “free activation” as the action most associated with joy. For him, joy is connected with a child’s readiness to seek things to play and to enjoy. Play can encompass physical, social, intellectual, and artistic play.

It involves a wide variety of activities such as the possibility to explore and discover, invent, or just simply fool around. Many benefits have been associated with play. Solid research suggests that play has an impact on social, intellectual, and psychological outcomes. It promotes skills acquisition and the development of physical and cognitive skills. The skills developed provide kids with durable resources that they can use in hard times.

What you can do

  • Provide kids with opportunities for play everyday.
  • Provide opportunities for kids to engage in unstructured but stimulating play. There is evidence that kids who engage in less structured play develop better problem-solving skills and also have more creative freedom.
  • Allow your kids to have “stand-and-stare time.” Kids also benefit by simply observing the world around them.

2 | Don’t force your kid to take those piano lessons

Kids build positive emotions when they engage in activities that interest them. Where there is interest, there is also curiosity, persistence, and excitement.

What you can do

  • Do not focus on what you think is “right” for your kid, focus on what he or she likes. Observing the things your kid is attentive to or those to which he seems attracted to can help you identify his strengths.
  • Work around your kids’ strengths. If your kid is competitive but doesn’t like doing math for instance, proposing math exercises with an added competitive element (for example timing how long he takes to finish a multiplication table) can help build interest.
  • When it comes to effective ways to motivate kids, some methods work better than others. Remember that kids are motivated by activities that offer challenges that take into account what they are already able to do.

3 | Start a gratitude routine

Helpful compassionate acts don’t just benefit other people, they also benefit us. We feel better when we help others. Gratitude makes people nicer to be around. There are science-backed benefits of practicing gratitude with kids. One study found that people who kept a gratitude journal in which they listed up to five small or big things for which they were grateful over the week were more attentive, determined, energetic, enthusiastic, excited, interested, joyful, and strong.

What you can do

  • Teaching your kid to practice gratitude does more than help him fill his “bucket of positive emotions.” It can also help your family bond. When family members show their appreciation for each other, they are more likely to become what science refers to as “strong families.
  • Staring a simple routine such as a “thankful day” where each family member expresses the things for which they are grateful can help kids develop a grateful disposition.

4 | Teach your kid to handle difficult emotions

Emotions have an impact on even the youngest kids and influence their social, psychological and intellectual development. When we teach kids about emotions using age-appropriate strategies, we help them understand that they have the resources to manage those emotions.

What you can do

  • Emotions are everywhere. Make use of every day opportunities to talk to kids about emotions.
  • Remember that it is easier to help your kid before he or she goes into full meltdown mode.
  • Knowing about emotions is good but insufficient on its own. Provide your kid with an effective framework to help her deal with strong emotions, and practice dealing with your own big feelings.
Positive psychology researchers agree that a kid is more likely to develop positive emotions when he is raised in a warm and responsive family in which he feels loved and appreciated. So chances are, you're already heading in the right direction.

Sanya Pelini


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