What good is it to FEEL good?

The power of positive emotions

Emotional IntelligenceThe research purpose of a laboratory at the University of Michigan has been to identify the
benefits of positive emotions beyond just “feeling good”. Their research found that positive emotions enhance your ability to:

  • See the big picture
  • Stay receptive to new ideas
  • Integrate diverse sources of information
  • Discover novel and creative approaches to changed situations.

Positive emotions aren’t as automatic as negative ones. We need to learn to actively engage them in the same way as we develop core muscular strength through Pilates.

Negative emotions

Negative emotions are automatic – they evolved this way to enable you to take action quickly when threatened. When you’re threatened:

  • Your attention is narrowed
  • Multi-tasking is switched off
  • You are focused on what to do, not why something has happened.

These reactions are wired into your brain. They happen automatically when you perceive a threat. When you’re negative, your short term focus is only on “fixing what’s wrong”.

Emotions and sustainability

So what does this mean when we’re looking for sustainability solutions? It means that we need to be very careful about the message, and the emotions we create. We’re more powerful when we can:

  • Offer a hopeful alternative
  • Offer a clear vision of what could be
  • Identify the steps for getting there
  • Focus on future opportunities.

Positives vs negatives

Some other patterns emerging from research into positive and negative emotions are:

  • Negative emotions trump positive emotions
  • It takes 3-5 positive thoughts to outweigh 1 negative thought.

With so many negative sustainability messages in the mass media, we need to focus much more on the positive stories and outcomes. Modern sustainability books don’t need to justify the issues any more – they need to teach the core principles and tools of sustainability and tell lots of good stories.

Want to know more?

If you’re a book junkie, then we recommend “Bigger Isn’t Always Better” by Robert M.
Tomasko which brings useful research together in a business leadership context.

Other mood and emotion articles are on our blog, with some useful tools and a further reading list on our RESOURCES page.

(Originally published in Balance3 Update, November 2006)

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About Leigh


Leigh is the principal of the business innovation practice Balance3 and her clients have included corporations such as Amcor, National Foods, Dair, SPC Ardmona, Kobelco, Corporate Express and New Balance as well as a range of smaller businesses and individual clients.