Positive Emotions: Peak Performance In Body, Mind, and Soul!

The Benefits of Positive Emotions

“Positive emotions are not trivial luxuries, but instead might be critical necessities for optimal functioning.” — Barbara Fredrickson

When they think of managing their emotions, most people think of getting rid of negative emotions. But Donald Clifton, a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, has shown that we can consciously create positive emotions.

Positive emotions help us live longer, says Clifton. In their book How Full Is Your Bucket? He and colleague Tom Rath show that positive emotions provide a buffer against negative health effects, anxiety, and depression. They enable us to recover faster from pain, trauma, and illness. They might even add more years to life expectancy than does quitting smoking (5.5 years for men and 7 for women). Other studies suggest positive emotions can even ward off the worst of the common cold.

As well as physical benefits, positive emotions can produce benefits that add to our mental well being, increase our ability to function well in relationships, and do well in all areas of life and work. Positive emotions, Rath and Clifton conclude:

• Protect us from, and undo the effects of, negative emotions;

• Fuel resilience and transform people;

• Broaden our thinking, encouraging us to discover new lines of thought or action; • Break down racial barriers;

• Build durable physical, intellectual, social, and psychological resources that provide “reserves” during trying times;

• Produce optimal functioning in organizations and individuals; and

• Improve the overall performance of a group (when group leaders express more positive emotions).

Positive emotions generated by praise and accurate feedback increase peak performance in sports, learning, and on the job. They improve marriages and relationships. They help us raise healthy, self-reliant and authentic thinking children.

Researcher Barbara Fredrickson, director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology lab at the University of Michigan says, “Positive emotions are not trivial luxuries, but instead might be critical necessities for optimal functioning.”

Positive emotions essential to mental and physical health!
Positive emotions essential to mental and physical health!

Creating Positive Emotions

Some of the ways to create positive emotions are simple and easy to do. Others require the ability to perceive and change your own thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Do Well and Feel Good

Positive emotions are a pleasant by-product of creating results that matter. William James defined self-esteem as “feeling good about doing well.” Both the process of creating—and the results it yields—can lead to the deeply positive emotions of gratitude, joy, and contentment.

Learning to consciously create what you most want in life, work, relationships, and your world can be one of the most powerful ways to produce positive emotions.

Close the Gap Between Espoused Values and Values-in-Action

Usually, we tend to see our actions through the lens of our “espoused values”—what we aspire to; our intentions. But research by Chris Argyris shows there is often a dramatic difference between espoused values and our "values-in-action"—what we actually do.

As Walt Whitman said, we are large; we can contain multitudes. But, if we are not aware of the gap between espoused values our values-in-action, we are not likely to do anything to close that gap. I, for example, value compassion and grace. However, in reality, I can be a bit defensive, especially when I think I’m being attacked. Therefore, in spite of my espoused values of compassion and grace, I sometimes act in ways that my friends describe as “prickly.”

You could see this as hypocrisy. Or you could see it as a gap between my espoused values and the values I habitually act on. If I espouse compassion, but deny my edgy temper, I get in the way of my best intentions. Recognizing the gap helps me act in ways that are closer to the values I want to express.

When I recognize my reality, I’m better able dampen my temper, and practice what I espouse. Doing so produces positive emotions: deep, authentic feelings of pleasure and gratitude as I master my behaviour.

To get a clearer sense of your key values, take Positive Psychologist's Martin Seligman’s Values In Action: Signature Strengths Survey at www.authentichappiness.org. It’s free, fun, and illuminating. Check it out!

Clarify Meaning and Purpose

Another way to act on espoused values is to commit to something with purpose and meaning. One of the most positive times in my life was when I created Earthways, a wilderness-based, personal growth program for teens. It was a fun summer in the mountains, a fun job for me. But, mostly, it helped teens experience a new way of seeing and being in the natural world—a way that would help them live lightly, yet richly and authentically on the planet. I also wanted to contribute to collective shift in environmental responsibility. In doing so, I tapped into one of life’s great joys.

“The true joy in life,” said George Bernard Shaw, is “being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one … the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."

At Earthways, I felt used by a mighty purpose. Focused on what I wanted to create, I didn’t have time to complain the world wasn’t making me happy. Besides, I was making myself—and a bunch of other people—happy. Meaning and purpose add depth, richness and positivity to our lives and work. They also that elusive sense of flow for which so many of us strive.

Creating Flow

"When goals are clear, feedback relevant, and challenges and skills are in balance, attention becomes ordered and fully invested," writes positive psychologist Mihaly Cziksentmihaly." Because of the total demand on psychic energy, a person in flow is completely focused. There is no space in consciousness for distracting thoughts, irrelevant feelings. Self-consciousness disappears, yet one feels stronger than usual. The sense of time is distorted: hours seem to pass by in minutes. When a person’s entire being is stretched in the full functioning of body and mind, whatever one does becomes worth doing for its own sake; living becomes its own justification. In the harmonious focusing of physical and psychic energy, life finally comes into its own."

In flow, we no longer seek comfort or pleasure. We don't compare ourselves to others. We don't measure success by the feelings it generates. Indeed, flow is free of emotion. Only after we have finished our climb, created our painting, or completed our dance do we become aware of a deep sense of gratification and gratefulness.

The more meaningful the challenge, the greater the chances of creating flow. And while flow is free of emotions, when you finish a flow activity, you feel a surge of positive emotions that enhance your day.

Caring and Compassion

Caring and compassion are primary paths to positive emotions. As the Dalai Lama says, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

Giving your best in terms of listening, understanding, and empathizing can produce wonderful effects. So can performing random and not so random acts of kindness. When you are kind to another, Donald Clifton says, you “fill their bucket.” You add to their stock of kindness and caring. Even brief positive interactions can add to another’s bucket, which also adds positive emotions to your bucket.

A thank you note I wrote to a bureaucrat who expedited help when a ditch backed up and diverted water into my house led to positive emotions for both him and me.

Being nice to people you meet during the day can produce a ripple of positive emotions. So, thank sales people. Be understanding with a person pushing two carts and three kids through a check out, and let them go ahead of you. Give a sincere compliment to someone in your office who did something worth commenting on.

Caution: You do not have to perfect. Don’t convert these suggestions to “shoulds” and then beat yourself up if you can’t live up to them. If you practice these suggestions and move toward increasing your ratio of positive to negative emotions, that’s good enough. Give yourself a hug.

Hug A Lot

Hugging and being hugged (respectfully) produce positive emotions. The respected family therapist Virginia Satir said her research showed we need fourteen hugs a day for optimum mental health. Ashley Montague pointed out the importance of touch to health. Our skin is our largest organ and perhaps the most sensitive. Montague showed that much caring and concern are transmitted through touch.

Research on Healing Touch techniques is beginning to confirm the importance of touch to health and well being. Even hugging your cat or dog can have significant, positive effects on such things as your heart rate and blood pressure.

Be A Force for Mental Health

Not only do these actions create positive emotions for people on the receiving end, and for you. They ripple into the world. Not just metaphorically, but actually. Scientists at the Institute of HeartMath® showed heartfelt emotions affect the rhythmic pulsing of your heartbeat. The more positive you feel, the more your heart pulses with a coherent rhythm. The heart has the most powerful pulse in your body, about sixty times that of the brain. “So your emotional state is being broadcast to your environment,” say the researchers, “and to the people around you.”

A nationally known psychologist said, “We can be a force for diminished mental health. Or we can be a force for positive mental health. The choice is up to us.”

Making that choice not only has a significant effect on your positive emotions and your life; you broadcast that effect to those close to you. The coherent pulse of positive emotions ripples out into the world, where they amplify other’s positive emotions.Amplifying each other, growing more powerful, these small waves produce larger waves of positive energy that create effects far beyond you and I.

So, when thinking about managing emotions, don't just think about getting rid of negative emotions. Consciously create positive emotions. When you fill your bucket with this kind of positivity, there won't be much room left for the negative.


Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton, How Full Is Your Bucket: Positive Strategies for Work and Life, Gallup Press, New York, 2004 Ibid.

Doc Childre and Deborah Rozman, Transforming Stress: The HeartMath Solution for Relieving Worry, Fatigue, and Tension, New Harbinger Publications, Oakland, CA, 2005


Bruce Elkin is a Personal Life Coach with 22 years experience, and clients on six continents. He is the author of Simplicity and Success: Creating the Life You Long For, and Emotional Mastery: Manage Your Moods and Create What Matters--With Whatever Life Gives You!

For more of my writing, please visit my HubPages profile.

If you liked this hub, please give it a "thumbs up" below, and "share it" with others on Facebook, Digg, etc… Much appreciated! Thank you!

Positive Emotions - Barbara Fredrickson

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Comments 30 comments

rockinjoe profile image

rockinjoe 8 years ago from Standing right behind you!

Hi Bruce. Great work, as usual, I enjoyed the interview with Barbara Fredrickson. She's a smart lady. As much as I try, though, I do find it difficult (especially now with the economy in the toilet) to stay in that positive mood I get myself into upon awakening. It fizzles by noon.

Bruce Elkin profile image

Bruce Elkin 8 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada Author

Thanks, Joe. I know the feeling, but over the years, I've practiced this kind of stuff and have managed to extend it throughout most of the day. At one point, 30 years ago, I talked myself into a state of despair, and nearly took my own life. That's when I started working on this stuff. It's not something you "get" and then do perfectly. It's like getting better at the guitar, I gotta practice it every day. Sometimes informally, sometimes formally -- but every day. Pays off though. Haven't thought about offing myself in a VERY long time!


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

Great stuff, Bruce. I'm going to go home and get myself a hug!

Bruce Elkin profile image

Bruce Elkin 8 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada Author

Great, Tom. Give yourself one for me, and pass it on! Thanks for the support. Cheers!

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 8 years ago from Virginia

Bruce, this is wonderful. I agree 100 percent with everything you've said, and you've said it well. A big part of improving our ability to think more positively is to recognize the reality of who we are and what our weaknesses are. Practicing compassion is equally important as you say. Being compassionate takes us outside of ourselves to think more about others instead of being completely self-centered. It's so necessary for healthy balance.

The easiest thing in the world to do is to give in to hopelessness and despair. I see you've been there, and I've been there too. It's a dark, dark place that is so hard to climb out of and knowing that makes it a little easier to not ever allow myself to go there again.

You're the boss of positive thinking! Big thumbs up! :)

Bruce Elkin profile image

Bruce Elkin 8 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada Author

Thanks, Pam. And you're so right about not giving in to hopelessness and despair. I almost did 30 years ago, and nearly packed it in. I had to learn how to become "realistically optimistic." I describe the process in my ebook Emotional Mastery: Manage Your Moods and Create What Matters--With Whatever Life Gives You! Its on my website.

But I owe what I know and share to real bosses of realistic positive thinking like Barbara Fredrickson, and Martin Seligman, and Albert Ellis. All great thinker/doers!

Thanks for your comment and support.


Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 8 years ago from Virginia

I thank you for sharing what you've learned from the great doers then. :) But now you're a doer too, so that makes you a boss as well. I always look forward to your hubs Bruce. Keep up the great positive vibes. :)

Bruce Elkin profile image

Bruce Elkin 8 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada Author

You're so kind, and encouraging, Pam. I appreciate your support. Thanks!

Cayenne_Pepper profile image

Cayenne_Pepper 8 years ago from Lafayette, LA

Very nice! Quite a bit of "food for thought" here. I am a firm believer of positive thoughts bring about positive things in life and I am looking forward to learning more about Dr. Fredrickson's work.

Bruce Elkin profile image

Bruce Elkin 8 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada Author

Thanks CP! It's important that we're talking about positive emotions here, not "positive thinking." In fact, Fredrickson and others have found that there are optimal levels of positive emotions. If you're ratio between positive and negative is down near 1 to 1, you're not going to feel and do very well. If it's in the middle range 1 to 5 up to 1- 10, you'll feel great and do well. But if you get too high, over 1 neg to 10-12 positive, your emotional state and effectiveness go DOWN.

This is because they're talking realistic positivity, not the old fashioned "positive thinking". And people who "affirm" that everything is great, when it's really not," are in danger of losing touch with reality. Thus they're not very effective, so do poorly,feel bad, which often causes them to increase their affirmation of postivity and further lose touch with reality. They end up in Pollyanna land, thinking lots and lots of positive thoughts, but feeling awful.

It's the same with optimism and pessimism. Pessimists actually see the world more accurately than optimists, but optimists do better, some think, because of their "slightly positive illusions" about reality and their own abilities. But overly optimistic people don't do very well, worse than pessismists, probably for the same reasons Fredrickson found. They lose touch with reality. Not everything in life is positive, or can be framed that way effectively.

So find the optimal range of positive to negative thoughts, and you'll thrive!

Dottie1 profile image

Dottie1 8 years ago from MA, USA

Hey Bruce, I knew eventually I would make it here to pay a visit. With teens home from college and consuming so much of my time, it's no wonder I can think at all! lol

Great hub. Growing up with a sister with depression, I learned rather quickly that misery loves company and I had better get a grip on my emotions or else and like you say it is something that needs to be worked on everyday but is so well worth it for your own well-being. Thanks again Bruce for writing and sharing! Thumbs up!

Bruce Elkin profile image

Bruce Elkin 8 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada Author

Yeah, thanks, Dottie. In some ways, it's so simple -- if we do it, if we practice it regularly. But if we let ourselves slide down into negavitity, it can be quite a struggle to pull ourselves out. I needed a block and tackle and a lot of hard cranking on the chain. Don't want to do that ever again, so I practice, practice, practice. And, I get to help others learn this stuff, so that helps too. And is very rewarding! I appreciate your comment and support.

Dottie1 profile image

Dottie1 8 years ago from MA, USA

I know what ya mean Bruce about letting ourselves slide down. For some reason practicing seemed to me like a waste of my time, that's what I was thinking and not from what I was practicing. I just wanted to go out and have some fun. Then I realized there was no fun out there because there was no fun in here so in a sense I had to make a decision of the quality of life I wanted for myself and made up my mind to get educated and then came the practice, following the benefits and life. Thank God!

Alana Obe profile image

Alana Obe 8 years ago from My mind...

Very powerful source of happyness as well, blessings, very nice hub.

Bruce Elkin profile image

Bruce Elkin 8 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada Author

Thank you, Alana. I appreciate your support.

And, Dottie, that's a great description of how choosing in favour of quality of life can help you get practicing what I call Emotional Mastery. Good for you! I like the last line - practice, benefits, life. Yes!

RGraf profile image

RGraf 8 years ago from Wisconsin

This is great and ironic as I just finished reading How Full is Your Bucket. I would recommend for everyone to read it. it is not a long book and can really change the way you think of everything.

Thank you for making me think some more today.

Bruce Elkin profile image

Bruce Elkin 8 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada Author

Thanks, RGraf, and yes, How Full Is Your Bucket is a quick, easy, and valuable read. Simple things lead to gratifying results! I appreciate your comment.

Lifebydesign profile image

Lifebydesign 8 years ago from Australia

Hey Bruce, great hub! To consciously create positive emotions is so key!

Netters profile image

Netters 8 years ago from Land of Enchantment - NM

Please keep up the good work. It is very hard to think positive in a negative world. I fight it every day.

Bruce Elkin profile image

Bruce Elkin 8 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada Author

I know what you mean. I use to "fight" it, too. But since I started practicing a variety of techniques to focus on what i really want (rather than what I don't like and don't want), and doing the positive emotions stuff, I find that things have gotten progressively easier. I hope it does for you, too. Thanks for your comment!

G-Ma Johnson profile image

G-Ma Johnson 8 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

Bruce...first of all nice frontpage here on the hubs...and what a sweet thing to see you mentioned me...how you make people feel , comes from the nice way you are.

Also great reads here had to read it twice though...a lot to think about... and try to apply to oneself...(I just can almost see you walking on the beach...next time will get my binoculars out)...LOL Anyway Hugs are always a good thing for everybody. My son-in-law has told me several times he felt so welcome when we first met because of the HUG I greeted him with...I always have been a hugger...find it difficult to hug MYSELF though...arms are too short...Have a great day ...G-Ma :o) Hugs & Peace

Bruce Elkin profile image

Bruce Elkin 8 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada Author

G-Ma, here's a big Canadian hug for you. Whoowhee! Thanks for your comment, and support. Always appreciated. Best way to do these kinds of things is to pick one, and do it until it's a habit (30 days?) and then try another one. That's what I did.

G-Ma Johnson profile image

G-Ma Johnson 8 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

Sounds like it could work...always willing to try new things...G-Ma :o) Hugs back

Bruce Elkin profile image

Bruce Elkin 8 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada Author

One at a time works better because it focuses you, and focus gives you power. Trying too many things scatters your energy, you don't make progress quickly enough, and so you quit.

One at a time is best. Time to go see if I can Sequim through the haze. ;;-)

Mike Logan 7 years ago

I really enjoyed your Hub Bruce. Elegant, I thought, and you know you can be an affiliate for the HeartMath products? I have been using them in my practice for about 8 years, and I love them. Mike Logan

Bruce Elkin profile image

Bruce Elkin 7 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada Author

Thanks, Mike. I appreciate the feedback an support.

I've always wanted to try the HeartMath coherence thingy, but it's out of my price range. Good to hear that you are using it in your practice. That's great!

Universal Laws profile image

Universal Laws 7 years ago from UNIVERSE

Great hub, researchers have now discovered that DNA unfurls and operates to its maximum for health and energy when we are feeling love and other good feelings. It tightens when we feel the opposite.


Bruce Elkin profile image

Bruce Elkin 7 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada Author

Didn't know that. Thanks for sharing, and supporting. Cheers!


Green Art profile image

Green Art 4 years ago

I recently finished reading "How Full Is Your Bucket" and loved it! I've learned to surround myself with positive people over the years. The "Debbie Downer's" as shown in skits on Saturday Night Live are no longer a part of my life. Gloom and doom people sap your time and drain your energy. I personally have more POSITIVE things to do and think about. Great HUB! Voted UP and Useful!

Bruce Elkin profile image

Bruce Elkin 4 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada Author

Thanks Green Art. I appreciate you reading the Hub and commenting on it. Thanks for the positive feedback. Much appreciated!

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