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Broaden Your Horizons through Positive Emotional Expression

Posted By Dr. Duke Biber, Ph.D., Wednesday, March 18, 2020


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

As I teach and mentor students in the field of health and wellness, I repeatedly get asked, “Which component of wellness is the most important for me to devote my time, energy, and resources?” As each of NWI’s Six Dimensions of Wellness promote resilience and thriving, it is important to respond to my students with multicultural competency, and in a way that can improve their personal wellness.

To answer this question, I continually find myself reverting back to Dr. Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory on positive emotions. This theory suggests that positive emotions, such as love, joy, contentment, and gratitude, broaden our thinking during a situation, allowing us to respond with a wide variety of positive behaviors. 

Negative emotions, on the other hand, tend to narrow our range of potential behavioral responses. When we experience fear, we tend to respond by fleeing or attempted escape, which historically served as a biological method of self-preservation when running from a threat. However, such a response is no longer needed across most workplace, school, or hospital environments today. 

The effect of positive and negative emotions can be understood through the following scenario:

University undergraduate student Jeena Varghese is presenting a research poster at a conference for the first time. As she prepares to share her research with others, Jeena experiences fear that she may embarrass herself or fail to answer a question correctly, leading her to skip the conference altogether. 

Alternatively, Jeena could approach the presentation with the hope to learn from other wellness professionals, optimism about her presentation skills, and gratitude for the opportunity to present. Such positive emotions may result in her attending and succeeding at the conference, networking with other professionals, and even engaging in other scholarly activities that she may not have considered, previously. Her positive emotions broadened her perspective of the situation, allowing her to respond with a wide variety of behavioral responses.

I urge individuals to focus on emotional wellness through awareness techniques such as mindfulness activities, self-compassion training, and cognitive reframing. Any individual can benefit from learning positive emotional expression, as the following four emotions are relevant across all cultures:

1. Joy
2. Interest
3. Contentment
4. Love

Each of these four emotions can be understood and expressed regardless of socio-economic status, education level, race, age, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. 

Based on broaden-and-build research, and the above example, I urge students to become aware of their emotions and practice positive reframing when necessary. By learning to express positive emotions, individuals build physical, intellectual, and social resources, promoting resilience and coping when life becomes difficult.

While all of NWI’s Six Dimensions of Wellness are important, I recommend a preliminary focus on positive emotional expression, as it positively impacts all of the other areas of wellness. 

Dr. Duke Biber teaches and conducts research at the Department of Sport Management, Wellness, and Physical Education at the University of West Georgia. Dr. Biber has his Doctoral degree in exercise psychology from Georgia State University and Master’s degree in sport psychology from Georgia Southern University. He has experience teaching sport and exercise psychology, mental and emotional wellness, health behavior change, weight training, and a variety of fitness courses. His research interests include psychological determinants of exercise as well as identity development, self-compassion, mindfulness, and spirituality. 

Tags:  Emotional Expression  Emotional intelligence  Emotional Wellness  Positivity 

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