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Cultivating positive emotions

Please welcome Suzanne Hazelton as one of our guest bloggers. She is also the author of Great Days at Work.

Happiness. We can cultivate long term happiness by sowing regular seeds of positive emotions.

But first let me digress into goal setting. When coaching clients it can be useful to understand “why” a particular goal is important. When the underlying reasons for having a goal become more explicit, it often forges a link to an inner drive and motivational force – thus increasing the likelihood of the goal being achieved.

Often when I ask why a goal is important, whether it be a promotion or material object (new car, watch or something else), people expect that the goal (not the act of achievement) would bring them happiness.

I think that achieving our goals gives us a sense of achievement and fulfilment, both important for our well-being – but happiness, well we can have that today – and not at some unspecified point in the future, tied to a goal.

Fredrickson (2001) found that we need to have more positive emotions for each negative emotion we experience. The research shows that we need at least three positive emotions for each negative emotion. She suggests that at this level there is a profound change of state in our well-being and likens it to the state change that happens to water at freezing point. The change of state from water to ice happens due to temperature whereas Fredrickson suggests that the balance of our positive to negative emotions is the cause of the change of state for us.

Personally, I don’t think the benefits of positive emotions can be overstated. They’re good for our health and well-being, they give us more creativity, and build our resilience, we become a magnate for opportunities and moods (both positive and negative) are contagious! So why don’t more of us actively design our life to experience more positive emotions?

There are of course a range of reasons that we don’t actively pursue positive emotions. In recessionary times it can be a bit counter cultural to be up-beat. But this shouldn’t stop us from doing things that give us positive emotions. Looking at some cherished photos might provide a boost – however I think many of us unconsciously feel that the effect might ‘wear-off’, so we unwittingly ration ourselves.

However we forget that we can experience new things. Daily. For each event we can deliberately savour the event, remembering the good, and “bang” a new positive memory, created.

On the whole, memories are not created by watching the TV … they’re created by going places, doing things, being with friends – or making new ones. Of course, experiencing positive emotions doesn’t have to cost money. Indeed well researched activities from the field of positive psychology include: acts of kindness and gratitude, neither of which costs money.

You might think that there are not enough hours in the day – and yet you could combine creating new positive emotions with your work. Yes. You read that right. I’m sure you were excited when you were first offered your job. You can probably cultivate positive emotions in your job – you might have to get creative to work out how you can do it … but the more positive emotions you experience the more likely you’ll be to see new opportunities (which in itself could be useful at work), and you might notice new opportunities to experience positive emotions in your work. A virtuous circle.

Suzanne Hazelton is a leadership coach and positive psychologist. She’s the author of Great Days at Work: How positive psychology can transform your working life. Read a sample chapter here.


Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218-226. doi: 10.1037/0003-066x.56.3.218

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