Positive Emotion (P) (including Optimism) 

The first element of PERMA is positive emotion.

Positive emotion is more than just ‘happiness’. There are a range of positive emotions, including amusement, hope, interest, joy, love, compassion, gratitude, and pride. Part of our capacity for experiencing positive emotions is genetic, but all of us have the ability to purposefully experience more positive emotion.

Professor Barbara Fredrickson is a pioneer in the research of positive emotions. She believes that positive emotions are an indicator of flourishing, and that they can be cultivated to improve wellbeing over time (Fredrickson, B.L., 2001).

Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build Theory says that positive emotions such as joy, interest, contentment, love and pride can broaden, or increase, our thoughts and actions. By exploring, savouring, integrating or visualising future success, positive emotions can broaden our habitual ways of thinking or acting to deliver a better result or feelings about life. 

Research findings on positive emotion

  • Increased positive emotion can build physical, intellectual, social and psychological resources (B. L. Fredrickson, Tugade, Waugh, & Larkin, 2003).
  • Leaders who are seen as more positive tend to have followers who are more positive (Avey, Avolio, & Luthans, 2011).
  • Positive emotions can undo the effects of negative emotions (Garland et al., 2010); and promote resilience (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004).
  • Positive emotional styles can help prevent and speed-up recovery from illness, including the common cold (Sheldon. Cohen, Doyle, Turner, Alper, & Skoner, 2003), and stress and heart disease (B. L. Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998).
  • Positive emotions can predict a longer life-span (Danner, Snowdon, & Friesen, 2001; Levy, Slade, Kunkel, & Kasl, 2002; Xu & Roberts, 2010).
  • Positive emotions can broaden cognition and help people be accepting of a greater variety of behaviours (Isen, 1993).
  • Increases in positive emotions are shown to have a more significant impact on employee wellbeing and a range of other people and performance-related outcomes, than a comparable reduction in levels of employee negative emotions (Cotton & Hart, 2003; Hart, Caballero & Cooper, 2010). 

You can build positive emotion by: 

  • Take time to find things you are grateful for in your life and reflect on what is going well and how you have contributed to those situations. This practice will build more positive emotion
  • Spending time with people that you care about
  • Doing activities that you enjoy, such as hobbies or pastimes
  • Play with your children, your pets or your friends
  • Listening to uplifting music that you love
  • Exercising. It can help raise your levels of positive emotions, as well as keep you healthy

Optimism is a form of positive emotion and is critical to building resilience.

Optimism is the belief that one will generally experience good outcomes in life (Scheier & Carver, 1992). People who are optimistic are more likely to be resilient to stressful life events (Carver, Scheier & Segerstrom, 2010).

People who are optimistic experience a range of physical and psychological wellbeing benefits and research highlights that: 

  • Optimism helps people during times of adversity and has been linked to improved post-operative outcomes, reduced post-natal depression and better readjustment to college life (Scheier & Carver, 1992)
  • Optimistic carers experienced less depression and less adverse impacts of caregiving on their physical health (Carver, Scheier & Segerstrom, 2010)
  • According to the results of a Dutch study, more optimistic people live longer (Giltay et al, 2004)
  • Life insurance sales people who were more optimistic salesmen sold more life insurance than less optimistic ones and were less likely to quit their job (Seligman and Schulman, 1986)
  • Young men who had a more pessimistic explanatory style were more likely to experience physical illness in later life (Peterson, Seligman & Vaillant, 1988)