EP 3: Sue Langley on the science of positive emotion and flourishing

The notion that our positive feelings have no purpose, other than to momentarily feel good, is outdated. Over 30 years of research tells us that positive feelings are more than just a good feeling. They’re a foundational aspect of our wellbeing that enable us to flourish.

As you’re going about your day, doing what you do, how much do you think about how you feel?

Are you aware that when you’re feeling stressed or even just neutral — as in not feeling anything in particular — it makes a difference to how you show up, compared to when you’re feeling good? If we want to show up as our best and ultimately flourish in life, positive feelings are foundational to making that happen.

Because it turns out feeling good is actually good for us. Positive feelings are to humans what the sun is to plants. The Heliotropic effect is where a plant turns towards the sun so that it can receive its life-giving energy. And the life-giving energy that nourishes us as human beings are positive feelings like joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love.

When we begin to understand the role that positivity plays in enabling us to be our best psychologically, intellectually, socially, and physically, we begin to realise there’s nothing trivial at all about feeling good.

DnM quotes from Sue

“Positive emotions broaden our ability to think; it broadens our ability to act; and it builds our resources.

“We’re way more likely to build relationships, to reach out, to connect with people, to be altruistic, helpful and kind when we’re in a positive emotional space.”

“If I can find tiny little ways every day to pop positive emotion into my day, then I’m going to get on that upward spiral.”

“The research has absolutely told us that if you’re in a more positive emotional state you can physically see more, but also for want of a better word, metaphorically see more. This is often why we’re more open to things when we’re in a more positive emotional state.”

“Flourishing is such a wonderful term to think, ‘What am I doing every day to keep my wellbeing high?’ Not just, ‘Can I be happy in this moment?’ and try to grab onto the things that we think will make us happy.”

“There’s a certain area of your brain that actually fires just before we have that moment of insight. What we also know is that positive emotions are more likely to facilitate that.”

“Positive emotions help produce dopamine, which is fuel for the brain. You might have a fabulous brain, but if you don’t fuel it up, it’s not going anywhere. We’re getting these outcomes because our brain is being fuelled so that we can think and express ourselves more effectively.”

“Languishing means no mental illness, but we’re not necessarily flourishing in life. As in, we are not eating as well, not exercising as well, not sleeping as well, we are potentially grieving. There could be a very good reason why we’re in the languishing quadrant. We’re not looking after ourselves physically, as in we skip breakfast, we have McDonalds for lunch, we binge watch Netflix and eat a bar of chocolate in the evening — that could be languishing. Languishing could be I’m showing up for work but I’m not really engaged, I’m not really doing what I could be doing, I’m not bringing my full self. I’m not as engaged in my relationships and it’s easy for me to sort of shut myself away. That’s languishing. Now, could it eventually bring us into mental illness? Absolutely. But at the moment, what we want to be thinking of is, if I do find myself moving into languishing, what tools am I putting in my toolkit to bring myself back?”

“Sometimes it’s OK. It’s OK to have those moments where we wallow in our sadness, our misery. It’s just — how long do you want to stay there?”

“And I will also tell you that I enjoy — if you like — the negative emotions. Because the state of flourishing is about everything that is going on.”

[What does it feel like to flourish?] “It’s easier because you get comfortable with the uncomfortable emotions, and it means you get past them so much quicker in a way that’s really valuable, I suppose. As opposed to thinking of it as trauma that you’re then having to carry around. It’s a gift. It’s something that’s happened to you, it’s made you stronger, etc. And you’ve handled it in a way that still allows you to flourish. So, that’s what it’s like for me. I love my life, including the challenges in my life.”

“Emotions are data — they’re information. They’re trying to tell you something, so let them tell you.”

“So many people say to me with exercise, ‘You have to find something you love’. And I’m like, ‘I don’t know about that.’ Maybe you love something you find.”

“If we can find ways to bring baby bits of positive emotion to what we do, even the stuff we don’t really want to do, it changes the way we show up to do the task.”

Connect with Sue

Sue Langley is a keynote speaker, global consultant and positive leadership expert. Sue specialises in the practical applications of neuroscience, emotional intelligence and positive psychology, synthesising the science and research into simple, practical tools that anyone can use.

Sue is CEO and founder of the Langley Group, and created the world’s first Australian Government accredited Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing course. Sue also has an online learning platform called ‘Learn with Sue’, for everyday people to learn science backed ways to boost wellbeing.