Positivity: Don’t Just Put a Happy Face On It

The concept of positivity has nothing to do with putting a happy face on something! This seems a bit counterintuitive, as we hear messages through songs, poetry, literature and other popular culture venues that encourage such behavior. Simply putting a happy face on something is a way of temporarily dealing with sadness or disappointment or even masking a deeper emotion or truth.

If positivity isn’t putting a happy face on something, then what is it?

Positivity has to do with a mindset that is pervasive. Positivity has long-lasting benefits that permeate day-to-day thinking and behaviors. It is a way of broadening one’s mindset. “Because open mindsets produce exploration and experiential learning, they also produce more accurate mental maps of the world.” (Fredrickson, 2009) Now there’s a concept to consider! Fredrickson claims that negativity and neutrality hold us back, constraining our knowledge and therefore our experience of the world. Heartfelt positivity has the power to contribute to moving one to higher levels of mental complexity—the self-transforming mind–open, flexible and curious.

Fredrickson describes 10 positive emotions that are present most frequently in people’s day-to-day lives. These are:

Joy: Things are going your way or even better than expected. Little effort on your part is required.

Gratitude: Gratitude comes when we appreciate something that has come our way as a gift to be treasured. It opens your heart and carries the urge to give back.

Serenity: Like joy, it requires little effort on your part. It is more low-key than joy. It is a mindful state. Fredrickson calls it the afterglow emotion.

Interest: You are pulled to explore something new or different that draws your attention. You are filled with a sense of possibility. Interest requires effort and attention on your part.

Hope: Hope is sparked within the moments when despair is most likely. It contains the belief that things can and will change. It sustains you when circumstances are dire. Hope energizes us to do as much as we can to make life good for ourselves and for others.

Pride: Pride is a self-conscious emotion. If gone to far it can become negative. Pride is positive when tempered with humility. Pride fosters the motivation to achieve.

Amusement: True amusement spurs the urge to share laughter with others, signaling that you find your current situation a safe place to share lightheartedness and build connections with others. It is a social emotion.

Inspiration: Inspiration creates the desire to be at your highest and best. Along with gratitude and awe, inspiration is one of the self-transcendent emotions, pulling us out of ourselves into a broader world.

Awe: Awe is closely related to inspiration. We are compelled to see ourselves as a part of something larger than ourselves. When in awe, we feel literally overwhelmed by greatness.

Love: Love encompasses all the positive emotions listed above. It is the most common positive emotion that people feel and has many facets. Feeling recurrent surges of love actually changes the inner chemistry of our bodies, creating biological responses linked with lifelong bonds, trust, and intimacy.

Authenticity is the bedrock of heartfelt positivity. Expressions or words that are positive without authenticity as a base do more harm than good. Such expressions are perceived as empty at best and manipulative at worst. True belief in others is the mindset that underpins the positive statements we offer in coaching and feedback. So, don’t just put a happy face on something! Reach for a genuine feeling of a positive emotion. Buoy yourself and others up in an authentic way with heartfelt positivity.

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Frances Shuster, PCC, M. Ed.

Frances Shuster is a Partner with Results Coaching Global and coauthor of Results Coaching: The New Essential for School Leaders. She is a faculty instructor and coach for the Results Coaching Global Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP).

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