Emodiversity describes the variety of emotions we experience on a daily basis. Research shows that emodiversity can often be a better predictor of physical and mental health than the raw calculation of “positive” vs. “negative” emotions.
A big part of emotional intelligence is embracing the full-range of the human experience.
Many times people get stuck within a limited emotional range. We tend to feel the same 3-5 emotions on a daily basis and forget that life has a lot more to offer.
Psychology research is beginning to find that emodiversity – the variety of emotions we experience on a daily basis – can be a powerful predictor of both physical and mental health.
For example, let’s look at two hypothetical people: Joe and Matt. Joe experiences 3 moments of joy and 1 moment of anxiety in a given day, while Matt experiences 2 moments of joy, 1 moment of anxiety, and 1 moment of gratitude.
If happiness could be calculated with basic arithmetic, we would conclude that Joe and Matt are equally happy because they both experience 3 positive emotions (joy, gratitude) for every 1 negative emotion (anxiety).
However, Matt experiences higher “emodiversity” – a greater abundance and variety of emotions throughout the day – which indicates an overall richer life.
Of course this is a simplified example, but it shows that there is more to happiness and well-being than just a raw calculation of emotion.
In one fascinating study (PDF) published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers analyzed 37,000 participants and found that “emodiversity” was an independent predictor of physical and mental health, including decreased depression and fewer doctor visits.
One theory researchers suggest is that emodiversity can build greater mental resilience by not allowing any single emotion to dominate a person’s emotional ecosystem:
“[Just as] biodiversity increases resilience to negative events because a single predator cannot wipe out an entire ecosystem, emodiversity may prevent specific emotions – in particular detrimental ones such as acute stress, anger or sadness – from dominating the emotional ecosystem. For instance, the experience of prolonged sadness might lead to depression but the joint experience of sadness and anger – although unpleasant – might prevent individuals from completely withdrawing from their environment. The same biodiversity analogy could be applied to positive emotion. Humans are notoriously quick to adapt to repeated exposure to a given positive emotional experience; positive experiences that are diverse may be more resistant to such extinction.”
Emodiversity prevents any single positive or negative emotion from becoming too dominant – which can be a healthy thing since it provides more variety, resilience, and flexibility – leading to a richer and more fulfilling life overall.
If a person only experiences a limited range of positive emotions, those positive experiences can grow stale and lose their appeal. By seeking out entirely new positive experiences and embracing new positive emotions, we reset our hedonic treadmill and keep life interesting and fresh.
“Variety is the spice of life” seems to hold true for our emotions – and we have a lot of positive emotions to choose from on a daily basis.
In another study published in the scientific journal Emotion, researchers measured emodiversity by analyzing diary entries from 175 adults (aged between 40-65) for over 30 days.
The researchers found that emodiversity within positive emotions (but not negative ones) was a significant predictor of better health outcomes, including lower inflammation. This finding held true even after controlling for mean levels of positive and negative emotions, body mass index, anti-inflammatory medications, medical conditions, personality, and demographics.
Positive emodiversity has also been associated with better student engagement and academic achievement, as was found in one study published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology which studied 400 high school students.
While there is still more research to be done on emodiversity, it seems to have a wide-range of benefits on our physical and mental health.
How does one achieve more emodiversity in their daily life? A big part of it is actively seeking new activities, hobbies, and experiences.
According to one study published in The Journals of Gerontology, there was a strong association found between “emodiversity” and “activity diversity” in older adults.
The researchers looked at how long participants spent on 7 different types of activities: paid work, spending time with children, chores, leisure, physical activities, formal volunteering, and helping someone outside of their household (such as a neighbor).
Individuals who reported a more balanced daily routine – based on the seven activities measured in the study – also reported greater emodiversity overall.
Let’s now look at the many different positive emotions that we can learn to embrace more of.
Positive Emodiversity: The Full-Range of Positive Emotions
Here’s a comprehensive list of the many different types of positive emotions we have to choose from. Which ones could you focus on more in your daily life?
- Joy – Joy is the most commonly recognized positive emotion. It is defined as any feeling of gladness, delight, or pleasure. We can derive joy anytime something good happens to us, whether it’s getting a job promotion, receiving a surprise gift from someone, or eating a delicious slice of cake. Joy is one of the core emotions that we associate with “feeling good” (which is also why it’s the main protagonist in the Pixar movie Inside Out). What brings you joy? How can you savor it and maximize the happiness you get out of those positive experiences?
- Peace/Calm – Peace is one of the most sought out emotions in our current world of busyness, stress, and overstimulation. What activities put you into a state of ease and relaxation? Exercises such as the 100 breaths meditation and progressive muscle relaxation are two effective tools for teaching your body and mind how to be more relaxed.
- Gratitude – Taking a step back to find things we are thankful for is one of the easiest ways to shift your mindset. One of my everyday mental habits is to identify at least one thing I am grateful for. It could be something small (like a nice meal) or something big (like my health and family). I also created a “15 Day Gratitude Workbook” awhile back that can be found on our downloads page.
- Nostalgia – Nostalgia is a powerful feeling that arises when we are reminded of a past experience or memory. Often it can be an under-appreciated positive emotion. You can easily evoke nostalgia by watching movies from your childhood, visiting places you haven’t been to in a long time, or doing activities you used to enjoy as a kid. Recently I was re-watching old Disney movies and was surprised by how strong the feelings of nostalgia kicked in during certain scenes and songs.
- Awe – Awe is an overwhelming feeling of amazement for something that is grand, unique, or special. It can often be triggered by both natural phenomenon (stars at night, sunsets, bird watching) and man-made phenomenon (a beautiful piece of art or music). Many researchers are studying the psychology of awe and how it can contribute to a more meaningful life.
- Curiosity/Wonder – Curiosity is a very underrated emotion, because there is so much in the world to be inquisitive and interested in. Curiosity is also a fantastic way to reverse any negative emotion, because even when you feel negative you can always question your feelings and look at them with the same sense of wonder as a scientist or philosopher. This is why I often describe curiosity as a “negativity disinfectant.” No matter how you feel about something, you can always turn an inquisitive eye toward it.
- Playfulness – Much of life is play. We often forget that as we get older, but being able to see the light side of things, joke around with others, and not taking life too seriously is an important aspect of happiness and mental health. Playfulness often means participating in life without always needing to achieve something, but just enjoying life for the sake of enjoying it. Spend time playing with kids, pets, or just having fun with family or friends. Be willing to be silly and stupid sometimes.
- Belonging – A sense of belonging is a fundamental need in all human beings. Feeling connected with people and supported by loved ones is important for finding meaning in life. The most introverted person still has a need to be social and connect. Where do you get your sense of belonging? Do you have family and friends that make you feel that you are a part of a larger group?
- Confidence – Confidence is the feeling of self-assurance in one’s skills and abilities. While people’s confidence levels will vary depending on the situation, it’s healthy for everyone to at least identify one area in their lives that brings confidence and self-esteem. What activities are you good at? What are your natural strengths or super powers? What do people like about you? Recognize the many ways you bring value to this world.
- Pride – Similar to confidence, it’s important we learn to take pride in our past success and accomplishments. Make sure to give yourself credit when you do something positive, even if it’s just a small act of kindness toward a stranger, or not indulging in a bad habit, or getting through another difficult day. Give yourself a mental pat on the back. We often focus more on our failures than our successes (because we want to learn from them or fix them), which is why it’s that much more important to shift our focus toward the positive when we can. Consider creating a jar of awesome – a collection of your “small wins” – that you can draw from when you need an extra boost in motivation.
- Optimism – We can’t predict the future, but it’s important that we feel optimistic that things will work out for the best. Optimism can often become a type of self-fulfilling prophecy – when we have faith and hope that things will move in a positive direction, we start acting in ways that make it more likely to become true. How do you feel about the future? Are you leaving the door open for good things to happen?
- Inspiration – What inspires you in life? What type of role models do you look up to and admire? It’s important we surround ourselves with people, places, and things that provide inspiration and motivation to us. The more that inspires you and uplifts you, the more you have to draw from to fuel your own goals and ambitions in life. Often a lack of zest for life begins from not being around enough things that energize and invigorate you.
- Anticipation – We all need something to look forward to in life. In fact, a healthy sense of anticipation can energize us and help us get through tough times. For example, it’s easier to get through a bad day at work if you know there is a new episode of your favorite TV show to check out when you get home. Or it’s easier to get through a difficult month at work when you know you have a summer cruise to look forward to. Make plans (big or small) to do fun and exciting things in the future, so you always have something positive in your life that you’re moving toward.
- Beauty – Learning to enjoy aesthetics and beauty is one easy source of happiness and pleasure. The power of a nice view teaches you to appreciate what is right in front of you, whether it’s a beautiful sunset, or a magnificent work of art, or a well-designed building. In today’s world, we often don’t appreciate beauty as much as we should – instead, we seem to highlight the ugly and wretched – but beauty still exists if you know where to look, and we should celebrate that whenever possible.
- Excitement – We all have a need for a degree of adventure, novelty, and excitement in our lives. While sometimes these needs can manifest themselves into bad habits (alcohol/drug use, gambling, or promiscuity), there are also plenty of ways we can engage in positive thrill-seeking. Depending on your personality, you can get your “fix” for excitement through action movies, video games, friendly competition, extreme sports, rollercoasters, or adventurous activities like sky-diving and mountain climbing.
- Empathy – Empathy is technically a neutral emotion because to empathize is just to feel what someone else is feeling (which could be positive or negative). However, cultivating empathy can also open you to feelings of interconnectedness or one-ness, which is one of the most powerful feelings to experience. One fun and interesting way to develop more empathy is to read fiction, which allows you to connect with characters on a deep level by showing you the world from an entirely new perspective.
- Love – Love is one of the most cherished positive emotions. It’s a deep feeling of enduring affection toward someone, including the desire to see them happy. This includes not only romantic forms of love, but also platonic and universal feelings of love. One of the most powerful exercises you can do is a loving-kindness meditation, which teaches you how to send love and good intentions toward everyone in life, including people you don’t necessarily get along with.
These are many of the core positive emotions, but of course there are countless others.
Can you name any positive emotions I missed?
It’s also important to keep in mind that many times we experience multiple emotions at once, so any combination of the positive emotions above can elicit a new type of positive feeling. Learn to accept and embrace emotional complexity to add another layer to emodiversity.
A single positive emotion can also become a trigger for other positive emotions.
According to the broaden and build theory, positive emotions can often open our mind to resources that we otherwise wouldn’t have access to.
In this way, every positive emotion can become a pathway to other positive emotions – all it takes is one positive emotion to start an avalanche of positivity.
What’s one positive emotion you can embrace more of? How can you create more positive emodiversity in your life?
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