Monday, August 31, 2015

The role of positive emotions in well-being, health and success

Dance by Eva Deli

Although negative emotions change from sadness and incapacitating fear to aggravation and even physical violence, positive emotions spur motivating energy and optimistic enthusiasm. Whether we laugh, smile, or jump for joy, positive emotions inspire generosity, kindness, embrace, and a uniting feeling. In contrast, negative emotions rigger isolation, and stress.

Sages, philosophers, and artists have understood the importance of positive emotions for well-being for millennia. Still, science did not take feelings seriously until the second part of the twentieth century. Like the sound of an engine or a waterfall, emotions were thought to be just symptoms of consciousness and, therefore, secondary to higher mental functions. In recent years the importance of emotions is quietly gaining ground in neurological, psychological, and common-sense observations. It is increasingly clear that emotions are the sole motivations of higher animals. 

Without motive, we do nothing. Our sentiments determine whether we want to live or die, but they do not let us take our lives; suicide must be planned carefully. When motivation is strong, it can even give us superhuman abilities. The greatest emotions, such as love, faith, enthusiasm, or belief, inspire the most significant achievement. The behavior of mammals and people (and even nations) can be impeccably manipulated by emotions. This is intuitively understood by every great teacher, leader, politician, or artist.

Over time emotional interactions form a mental landscape, which determines our confidence level, and regulates our thinking, behavior, and relationships in an intimate way. Only positive emotions generate optimism, trust, and confidence, the source of emotional stability. Behind every notable piece of art, music, literature, or science, we find positive emotions, for only an optimistic mind, are capable of creativity or „flow.” Even art that describes terror and suffering carries a positive, hopeful, emotional message: the belief in our human potential. Even abstract mathematics depends on harmony, symmetry, and beauty. 

Positive emotions also have a short shelf life. Faith, love, courage, and awe bubble up with instant enthusiasm, which cannot be postponed until tomorrow. Although the force of the moment, positive emotions have a profound long-term effect. They increase mental potential (energy), which is the success generator of the social world. A positive attitude eliminates unnecessary details and expands the sense of time, which fuels enthusiasm, generosity, allowing more happiness. It is important to note that some "positive" feelings, such as glee, and selfish pleasure generate insecurity and remorse. At the same time, catharsis and reaching closure in sadness are uplifting and lead to wisdom.

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