Experiencing positive emotions is far more than an end in itself. At least this is what a continuously expanding body of research is beginning to demonstrate. Much of this research goes under the name of "broaden-and-build theory," which posits that positive emotions have expanding consequences that are beneficial to the person. Positive emotions, whether joyful or merely contented, are likely to color ways people respond to others and to their environments. Research has shown, for example, that positive emotions broaden the scope of people's visual attention, expand their repertoires for action, and increase their capacities to cope in a crisis. Research also suggests that positive emotions produce patterns of thought that are flexible, creative, integrative, and open to information. Positive emotions also increase people's preferences for variety and broaden their sense of agreeable options for action. If people cultivate these emotions, looking for ways to experience more joy in life, they "may literally transform themselves, becoming more creative, knowledgeable, socially integrated, healthy and resilient individuals."

As also reported in a previous edition of the newsletter, a study of the life trajectories of a group of nuns indicated that those who had expressed the most positive emotions in early adulthood lived up to 10 years longer than those who expressed the least (Danner, Snowdon & Friesen, 2001).

In recent research by Fredrickson,Tugade, and Waugh (2003) people's reactions to the 9/11 disaster were followed. After the attack college students were tested for positive emotions (, gratitude, interest, love, contentment, pride, amusement, and awe), and for signs of depression. As the research suggested, students who experienced more positive emotions were less susceptible to post 9/11 depression. Further measures were given of the student's resources for confronting crises. Such resources included optimism, the ability to relax, and the ability to remain calm in the face of difficulty. As the research indicated, students who experienced many positive emotions also possessed more resources.

The implications of this research for older populations are important. First it appears that positive emotions co-exist with negative emotions in a crisis situation. Efforts to cultivate and nurture these positive emotions, even in the face of traumatic circumstances, is helpful in reducing stress and avoiding depression. It is not clear how positive emotions in a crises may be cultivated. Spiritual practices and philosophical discussions may be helpful. Reminiscing about good times, learning relaxation techniques, and engaging in pleasant activities are also promising possibilities. Needed here is a pathway to grass-roots sharing.

Danner, D. D. , Snowdon, D. A., & Friesen, W. V. (2001). Positive emotions in early life and longevity: Findings from the nun study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2001, 80, 804-813

From: What good are positive emotions in crises? A prospective study of resilience and emotions following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 by Barbara L. Fredrickson, Michele M. Tugade,Christian E. Waugh, & Gregory R. Larkin. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2003,84, 365-376