Positive Emotions & Negative Emotions – Let’s take a closer look at the emotional spirals
Positive emotions trigger self-perpetuating cycles, yet because they lead to optimal functioning and enhanced social openness, they relate to upward spirals.
Downward spirals relate to emotion-related dynamics to acknowledge the self-perpetuating and damaging cycles that can be triggered by negative emotions.
Negative emotions of anger and fear each involve neural, cardiovascular, endocrine, and muscular changes, alongside changes in thought and action tendencies patterned from primitive urges to fight or flee. Such negative emotions also often co-occur with dysfunctional social interactions, which can perpetuate psycho physiological reactivity and trigger destructive behavior toward self and others.
Conversely, positive emotions such as joy, amusement, hope, and awe – themselves multi-component response systems – can serve as a bulwark against the stress of life; if cultivated intentionally, in contextually-appropriate ways, positive emotions can buffer against and undo the deleterious effects of stressful adaptational encounters and reduce the impact of future distress.
New scientific research on neuroplasticity suggests that positive emotional states may trigger lasting, durable changes in the structure and function of the brain which instantiate and promote further adaptive thoughts and behaviors.
According to theory and data, pleasurable positive emotions, although fleeting, can have a long-lasting impact on functional outcomes, leading to enhanced well-being and social connectedness. Put simply, positive emotions expand people’s mindsets in ways that little-by-little reshape who we are.
Prospective correlational research indicates that initial positive emotional experiences predict future positive emotional experiences, in part by broadening cognition, positive coping repertoires and increasing interpersonal trust.
Thus, as positive emotions expand people’s mindsets, behavioral repertoires, and social openness, these effects in turn may reciprocate in increased positive emotions, as one increasingly attends to opportunities to engage in pleasurable events and encounters.
Note that upward and downward spirals are not mirror opposites that simply trade negative content for positive content. Rather, consequential structural differences set them apart.
Whereas downward spirals lead to narrowed self-focus and rigid or stereotyped defensive behavior, upward spirals lead to increased openness to others and novel or spontaneous exploratory activity.
In effect, upward spirals are more open, permeable, flexible and social than downward spirals. By engendering exposure to positive experiences, positive emotions tend to accrete over time leading to more frequent positive emotions in the future. In so doing, positivity may develop a “life of its own.”
Scientists propose that upward spirals of positive emotions may be keys to fostering resilience and countering the deleterious effects of the chronic negative moods observed among some persons with clinical disorders.
Positive emotions are not mere epiphenomena. They broaden thought and action repertoires, increase mental flexibility, augment meaning-based coping, and motivate engagement in novel activities and social relationships.
Importantly, positive emotions, although transient, have lasting consequences; they build durable personal resources whose accrual triggers further positive emotions, leading to self-sustaining upward spirals of well-being.
One simple way to affect our emotions is by using affirmations. If you want to know more about affirmations I invite you to read: What Are Affirmations?
Photo: Esther & Jerry Hicks. Reference Sources: US National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health.