Certain bodily pleasures are designed to feel so good that you want them to recur, but do positive emotions, such as joy, rapture, interest, and contentment, have a purpose in the same way as negative emotions?
Positive emotions have at least two fundamental purposes. Psychologist Barbara Fredickson has suggested that positive emotions expand our attention rather than focus it (as negative emotions do), and in doing so they foster the growth of physical, social, and intellectual resources, which in turn lead to an upward development spiral. So experiencing joy leads us to want to play and be creative, feeling interested leads us to explore and experience, and feeling contented leads us to savor and appreciate.
The second purpose of positive emotions is that they ‘undo’ the effect of negative emotions and enhance resilience and ability to cope. Humor increases one’s tolerance of pain for example. In another study, participants shown positive and uplifting videos after a stressful event or after watching upsetting videos showed faster cardiovascular recovery than did the control group. And in the aftermath of 9/11 resilient people experienced more positive emotions, which led them to feel increased optimism, well-being, and tranquility as well as protecting them against depression.
~ Grenville-Cleave and Boniwell, Ph.D.
~ Nina Simone