The Top Ten Positive Emotions According to Barbara Fredrickson

The emotional world is rather like a play. Every emotion is necessary for it to go well. On the other hand, a bad actor (emotion) can ruin the whole production.
The Top Ten Positive Emotions According to Barbara Fredrickson
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 07 February, 2023

If you had to select one positive emotion, which would you choose? For many, the most nourishing, powerful, and transformative emotional state is undoubtedly love. For others, it’s calm, the experience of balance and absolute satisfaction when life, just for a moment, isn’t difficult or stressful.

However, in reality, the entire spectrum of emotions is basic, decisive, and important for you, as a human being. Those with positive valence act as your daily engine and the light that illuminates your motivation, hope, and connection with your environment. They’re emotions like passion, inspiration, curiosity, and joy. Who wouldn’t want to cuddle up to them forever?

Of course, that isn’t possible and, on a daily basis, you might experience sadness, anguish, and disappointment. They put your abilities of adaptation to the test. That said, understanding the essence of the most gratifying emotional states teaches you how to promote and awaken them in you to achieve positive mental well-being.

“Just as day lilies retract when sunlight fades, so do our minds when positivity fades.”

-Barbara Fredrickson-

Senior couple smiling happy symbolizing the most important positive emotions
Love, curiosity, and inspiration are the emotions that most promote psychological well-being.

The top ten positive emotions

One of the leading experts in the field of positive psychology is Barbara Fredrickson. In fact, it could be said that it’s thanks to her research that the field of positive emotions was addressed for the first time in a scientific and objective way. Fredrickson is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA),

Indeed, until the early 1990s, no one had studied the functions and objectives of positive emotions. Dr. Fredrickson demonstrated that they’re key to developing new learning, establishing new knowledge and behaviors, and consolidating our relationships.

Positive emotions are the spark that makes life possible and that consolidates well-being and human growth. They act as a cognitive impulse that facilitates the power to build and transform reality. In a study published in 2021, the most important positive emotions were detailed, those that should be promoted. They’re as follows:

1. Joy, the ability to experience pleasure

What gives you pleasure, enjoyment, delight, and satisfaction? The answer is joy. It’s the opposite of pain and is an emotional state that brings you fulfillment and happiness. However, it’s a brief state, rather like the feeling a child experiences when eating ice cream. Or, the kind you experience when reading a book or having sex. They’re simple, basic, and enriching activities that make you experience a rewarding feeling of well-being.

2. Gratitude, a bow to well-being

It may come as a surprise, but gratitude is a primary skill for developing and maintaining optimal levels of satisfaction, quality of life, and emotional well-being. Thanks to this experience, you appreciate everything, from the quality of your relationships to your own existence in the world.

So, ask yourself what you’re feeling grateful for today.

“Positive emotions open our hearts and minds, make us more receptive and more creative.”

-Barbara Fredrickson-

3. Serenity, inner calm

We mentioned serenity earlier. It’s certainly one of the most important positive emotions. It’s a sensation charged with harmony, a state of mind in which nothing external or internal alters you or makes you suffer.

This emotion is one of the most longed-for because the serene mind is the one that knows how to deal with anxiety, the one that doesn’t suffer the disturbance of excessive worry.

4. Interest in the world, life, and yourself

Barbara Fredrickson highlights the importance of this emotion as a key to our development and evolution. After all, no learning will be consolidated if there’s no prior interest in discovering new information.

An interested mind pushes the individual toward exploration. It motivates them and makes them move to broaden their perspectives and knowledge.

5. Hope, the confidence in tomorrow

Hopeful hearts and minds aren’t naive. Hope goes beyond optimism. If you cling to hope and cultivate it daily, it doesn’t mean that you expect everything fate brings your way will be positive. It means you believe that whatever is to come will make sense and you’ll be able to face it. In effect, you trust that, despite the fact that the world is an uncertain place, tomorrow will be better.

6. Pride, the feeling of being valuable

One of the most important positive emotions that you should cultivate and promote is pride. Far from seeing it as a negative emotion from which egoism or narcissism emerges, it should be understood from a more adjusted perspective. After all, there’s nothing boastful about someone who’s proud of their achievements, recognizes their skills, and ensures that they serve them effectively.

In fact, this emotion gives muscle to self-esteem by acting as a validator of the self.

7. Amusement, the power of humor

You experience amusement when you find something humorous. It might be a joke or just thinking how strange the world is that we live in. Moreover, humor helps you connect with others and a shared sense of amusement helps you bond socially. It means you don’t take life too seriously. In fact, being able to laugh at your own mistakes is one of the keys to happiness.

8. Inspiration, the reason for living

Inspiration is the ability to find objectives, concepts, and references that instill curiosity, and passion in you. It also gives you the desire to experiment, learn, imitate, and even transcend. It moves you to act and transmits energy, strength, and new interests with which to update yourself and continue moving forward.

Research conducted by psychologists Todd M. Thrash and Andrew J. Elliot claims that inspiration acts as a decisive construct for well-being.

9. Awe, the appreciation of creativity

You feel awe when you see something magical, like a beautiful sunset or landscape. Or, when you look at a wonderful painting and marvel at the artist’s skill. Awe is the appreciation of creativity, It can also have a spiritual element. For instance, when you wonder about the universe. It signifies being open to new experiences. Of thinking of the world around you and feeling completely overwhelmed by its beauty.

“Positive emotions, such as love, joy, and gratitude, promote new and creative actions, ideas, and social bonds.”

-Barbara Fredrickson-

Hands pointing to the sky symbolizing the most important positive emotions
A positive state of mind can improve relationships and health, and broaden the mind.

10. Love, the engine that moves the world

What do you think is the most important positive emotion? Last on Fredrickson’s list is love, not because it’s the least relevant, but quite the opposite. Love is the energy that makes your heart beat. It helps you grow and makes you feel strong and valuable. Without this vital force, you’d be lost. Moreover, it’s not enough to receive it, you must also know how to offer it.

Love is the social glue that consolidates your relationships. It’s also the glass through which you look at the world in all its glory. Only if you observe life from a position of love will you be capable of always giving the best of yourself. This, as you well know, has a direct impact on your physical and emotional well-being.

So, what if you were to start to focus on promoting your positive emotional states a little more? Without a doubt, you’d benefit hugely.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Fredrickson BL. The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. Am Psychol. 2001 Mar;56(3):218-26. doi: 10.1037//0003-066x.56.3.218. PMID: 11315248; PMCID: PMC3122271.
  • Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Rev. Gen. Psychol. 2, 300–319. doi: 10.1037/1089-2680.2.3.300
  • Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). “Positive emotions broaden and build,” in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. Vol. 47. eds. P. Devine and A. Plant (Academic Press), 1–53.
  • Fredrickson, B. L., and Losada, M. F. (2005). Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing. Am. Psychol. 60, 678–686. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.60.7.678

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.