Positive affectivity is a moderately stable trait over time and situation involving frequent feelings of pleasant mood, enthusiasm, and high energy. Positive affectivity is strongly linked to genetics, and unfortunately, only seen in a minority of the population.
Contrary to positive affectivity, positive emotions include pleasant or desirable situational responses, ranging from interest and contentment to love and joy. Positive emotions also include positive subjective feelings, heightened cognition, positive cardiovascular and hormonal changes, and other positive changes that occur over a relatively short period of time. Opportunities to create positive emotions are available to us at all times and in all circumstances.
You may well question the value of positive emotions given the fact that they only occur over a short period of time. According to the “Broaden and Build Theory” of Dr. Barbara Frederickson, positive emotions lead to broadened and more flexible responses, a greater array of thoughts, and the ability to think and create flexibly. For example, joy might create the urge to play, which involves exploring and learning. Love and friendship creates the urges to explore, learn about, and savor. These thought-action sequences all build personal resources that, in turn, have long term benefits, lasting long after the positive emotion, itself, is gone. In fact, these personal resources remain steadfastly with you, fortifying your strength and resilience in dealing with future challenges and negative emotional states.
A close friend of mine, who I have known for about 20 years, but who wanders in and out of my life due to frequent moves and relocations, had moved to a location not too far from mine, allowing us several months of frequent visits and escapades. Because we know each other so well, can share so openly, and often make each other laugh, I was given the gift of several months filled with the positive emotions of friendship, caring, sharing, and joy. My friend recently left, once again, for distant lands, just at the time when I am facing the stress of a surgical procedure in a week or two. However, the mutual sharing and happiness of the past several months has strengthened my optimism, my resilience and my determination to recover and be well.
Studies in positive health demonstrate that individuals who are generally resilient, and bounce back from stress and negative events, recover more quickly, and that they do so through the generation of positive emotions during the recovery process. This applies to physicians as well as our patients.
Make time to create positivity in your day and life. Savor and cherish the good things in your life. Count your blessings. Perform acts of kindness. Appreciate the kindness of another toward you. Start a gratitude journal. Increase awareness of and use your signature strengths. Appreciate the beauty of nature and of the arts. Strengthen your friendships and relationships. The possibilities for creation of positivity are endless! One result is hope and strength in times of stress.
Cohn, M.A. & Frederickson, B.L. (2009). Positive emotions. In S.J. Lopez & C.R. Snyder, (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 13-24.