Regulating Positive and Negative Emotions

When we think of our emotions, they’re generally divided into two states: positive and negative. Of course, negative emotions are those such as fear, anger, and distress which may harm the body in prolonged quantities. However, they have an important survival value if we consider these emotions from an evolutionary perspective. Experiencing these emotions long ago has helped us get to where we are today: for instance, fear has let us know to run away from predators, anger perhaps served to defend or fight an enemy, and distress might have helped us recognize our body was in pain or unhealthy and signalled us to find a solution. That being said, negative emotions shouldn’t be experienced out of proportion. When we have too many negative emotions, for instance when our daily stressors are higher than we can handle, this may lead to increases in stress hormones in our bodies over time. This in turn may increase inflammation in the body, potentially leading to chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

Therefore, there comes a realization that in order to have a healthy mind and body, we must make sure to maintain harmony within ourselves by balancing all our positive and negative emotions. Ideally, we strive to make sure our positivity is much more prominent than any negativity, keeping us mostly in a positive state of feeling. When we have more positivity, we feel happier, rate our well being and life satisfaction higher, and are even more attentive and enthusiastic with our tasks.

When experiencing positive emotions, we are more likely to:

  • Help others
  • Be flexible with our thinking
  • Come up with solutions to our problems
  • Be more willing to exhibit self-control

Think about yourself for a moment- when you’re in a great mood, feeling happy, and energetic, have you noticed if you’re more willing to help someone out? Find a solution to a problem more effectively? Able to “bounce back” easier after something doesn’t quite go as planned? See if you can notice these things next time. Numerous studies have shown that we truly seem to have more psychological resilience and want to genuinely help others when we feel positive emotions.

Other researchers have suggested that positive emotions also expand what an individual feels like doing at any given time, broadening an individual’s momentary thought-action repertoire. For instance, the experience of joy appears to open us up to many new thoughts and behaviours. When we’re happy, generally we feel like doing more things, we tend to socialize more, and we tend to be more creative with our problem solving. Negative emotions on the other hand, are associated with dampening our ideas and actions.

Experiencing the feeling of joy also is thought to induce more playfulness. This is especially important when considering a developing child. Juvenile play helps build social and intellectual resources by encouraging attachment, increases levels of creativity, and aides in proper brain development. In a developing young adult, having a sense of playfulness reduces perceived stress allowing a person to better cope with stressors, and is also linked to a greater life satisfaction along with other positive attributes.

Did you know…

  • Research suggests that practicing more positivity may assist in developing leadership abilities, by being more creative toward making organizational change
  • Positivity is suggested to increase cognitive function by increasing both spatial and verbal memory (your working memory)- great news for students that are in the midst of their studies!
  • Positive affect may provide greater resilience to both chronic and acute experiences of pain
  • Generally, the more positive you are, the less of an effect negative emotions (ex. anger) have on you

When we’re working towards self-improvement, let’s keep in mind this balance between our positive and negative emotions, and continue to practice more positivity in our daily life.



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