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Helping Your Positive Emotions To “Stick”

Added on June 7, 2011

Ever wonder why it seems easier to focus on bad events than good ones, negative emotions and feelings than positive ones? When their guard is down, even the most positive person may find it easier to complain, vent or feel negative emotions than positive ones.

In fact, research suggests that negative emotions/thoughts/feelings are “stickier” than positive ones, ie they attach to us with greater ease and are harder to get rid of than positive emotions and feelings.

Why is this? One hypothesis is that negative emotions are important for the survival of the species. In particular, humans who noticed bad or dangerous events and responded with negative, but self-protective emotions such as aggression or fear would be more likely to survive and pass on their genes.

Research done by Barbara Frederickson on positivity suggests that negative emotions narrow our focus and that this is important when in danger, as it ensures our full concentration is directed toward the threat at hand. On the other hand, this narrowed focus can prevent us from seeing the big picture and cause us to exhibit a more pessimistic viewpoint.  Positive emotions, on the other hand, help us to broaden our perspective, think laterally, problem-solve more effectively.

So what can we do about this? How can we make our positive emotions “stickier”? Awareness may be part of the answer. It’s normal to feel negative emotions, but that doesn’t mean we have to dwell on them. Perhaps we can let them serve their purpose and then move forward mindfully to a more positive mind-set.

Although it’s important to acknowledge that both negative and positive emotions are human qualities and that they both serve a purpose, practicing mindfulness may increase one’s ability to spend a longer time in their positive emotions to help offset the narrowed mindset caused by negative emotions.


About Judith Lissing

Judith Lissing is a Clinical Hypnotherapist and Wellness Coach, with 15 years experience in teaching stress management and meditation. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree with Honours in Immunology and a Masters degree in Public Health, both from the University of NSW. She is also an Associate Lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of NSW since 1999. Judith is trained in Wellness Coaching with Wellcoaches U.S. and holds a Diploma in Hypnotherapy. Prior to coaching professionally, Judith held a statewide management role with NSW Health working with all levels of staff across the health sector.

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