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How Positive Emotions Enhance Mental Health and Life Satisfaction

When experiencing an episode of depression, there are often some triggering events that lead to a gradual downward spiral of emotional and physical health.

People become more and more overwhelmed and stressed, and begin to deteriorate emotionally, physically, and socially, ultimately becoming exhausted, depressed, and hopeless.

Similarly, many negative emotional states lead to a limited and narrow view of coping skills and behavior. For instance, when experiencing fear, stress, or anxiety, the fight or flight response may be the primary focus of dealing with the emotions. This is important if you’re in immediate danger, but by no means enhances mental health when stress and anxiety are chronic.

So, the big question is…

If negative emotions lead to a narrow view of problem solving and coping, and when chronic, tend to prompt a downward spiral in mood, could there also be an upward spiral that expands thinking and problem solving capabilities from experiencing positive emotions?

In my opinion, some of the most fascinating research in positive psychology has come from Barbara Fredrickson in examining this concept.

Broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions

Fredrickson is probably best known for her Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions. In this theory she proposes, “that the positive emotions broaden an individual’s momentary mindset, and by doing so help to build enduring personal resources (Fredrickson, 2003, p. 332).”

The experience of positive emotion leads to novel thoughts, activities, and relationships, which in turn provides more personal resources, such as social support, improved skills, and resilience to overcome obstacles.

The broadening effect

Positive emotions, such as joy, curiosity, hope, and contentment, can broaden the cognitive capacity to be more flexible and receptive to new ideas and novel possibilities. People may be more creative and open-minded, be willing to seek out social support, and develop greater emotional and intellectual resources for problem solving.

The building effect

As positive emotions increase and broaden possibilities, relationships, and behavior, it leads to building greater personal resources. Specifically, have improved health, greater hope, optimism, and better quality relationships.

Individual’s that discover novel approaches are able to incorporate and establish these resources through expanding social support, learning new skills, increasing knowledge, and applying these when coping with struggles.

The upward spiral

The benefit of positive emotions don’t stop with broadening options and building resources. They also lead to greater life satisfaction.

Because of the growing and enduring resources people start to develop, it leads to greater health, fulfillment, and overall better functioning, which in turn leads to a perpetual upward spiral of positive emotions.

In general, people will be in a better situation and more contented, hence leading to more opportunities and the capability to experience more positive emotions.

In the culmination of the broadening and building effects of positive emotions on social, physical, and mental resources one is able to build a framework for later use to adequately manage life’s threats and obstacles, as well as having more outlets for increasing emotional well-being and finding fulfillment.

Increase your positive emotions little by little

It isn’t always easy and natural to experience positive emotions. In fact it can be quite difficult at times, but there are countless things you can start incorporating in your life to improve your state of mind.

  • Watch a funny movie and laugh
  • Write down 5 good things that happened to you today
  • Engage in an activity or hobby that provides you pleasure
  • Have fun and talk with friends
  • Read an inspiring book
  • Play board games instead of watching television
  • Start practicing meditation
  • Doing random acts of kindness
  • Count your blessings
  • Exercise

Do what you can today to start experiencing more positive emotions. Even a mediocre increase can be helpful in the long-run.


Fredrickson, B. L. (2003). The Value of Positive Emotions.  American Scientist, 91(4), 330-339.

Photo credit.jocelyn.

How Positive Emotions Enhance Mental Health and Life Satisfaction

Joe Wilner

Joe Wilner is a life coach, licensed clinical psychotherapist (LCP), and drummer from the band Yes You Are. He is also creator of You Have a Calling, a blog and online community helping people discover and pursue their life’s work and mission. Through deep and personalized coaching, he helps ambitious, creative, and spiritually minded individuals make a greater impact, grow as leaders, and design a soulful life they are inspired by.

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APA Reference
Wilner, J. (2011). How Positive Emotions Enhance Mental Health and Life Satisfaction. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Feb 2011
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