child reading in hammockPositive psychology makes people happier.

Martin Seligman

He should know.

He wrote the book on it.

For well over a decade, Seligman has overseen and synthesized hundreds of academic studies about positive psychology, all while teaching dozens of researchers and practitioners in the academic discipline he essentially founded.
He wanted to call his first book on the topic – wait for it – Positive Psychology, but his publisher insisted upon Authentic Happiness, insisting that people would be more likely to buy a book with the word happiness in the title.
I suspect the publisher was onto something, even as the author disagreed.

The primary problem with that title [Authentic Happiness] and with “happiness” is not only that it under explains what we choose, but that the modern ear immediately hears “happy” to mean buoyant mood, merriment, good cheer, and smiling. Just as annoying, the title saddles me with that awful smiley face whenever positive psychology made the news.

Awful smiley face. The one I couldn’t resist, even though I get it that positivity is more than happiness.

Positivity is much more than happiness.

And if positive psychology makes people happier, positive emotion is the essential ingredient.

But what if you’re not feeling buoyant, merry, cheerful or smiley?

How do you name and claim your positivity when it doesn’t read happy?

Given that positive psychologist Todd Kashden discovered that our ability to precisely name and describe our emotions deeply affects our ability to manage during stressful times, it’s important to get clear about which positive emotions we’re feeling.

Lucky for us, colleague Barbara Fredrickson describes positivity’s top ten tunes in her book, Positivity. Here’s a look at her take on how positivity is more than happiness.

Positivity’s Top Ten Tunes

Joy: That bright, light feeling that puts a spring in your step and makes you feel glow-y all over.

Gratitude: The heart-opening appreciation of something as a gift to be treasured. It’s often accompanied by a desire to give back, not out of a sense of debt, but out of gratitude.

Serenity: Like when you rest in Savasana at the end of a really great yoga practice or sigh with satisfaction or just sit back and soak in the goodness.

Interest: The sense of possibility and focused attention that happens when you feel safe and something new and different captures your attention.

Hope: The sense of possibility that, even in the midst of uncertainty, things can change for the better.

Pride: The urge to share the good news when you accomplish something that’s valued in your community and that helps you tap into the persistence to achieve even more.

Amusement: nonserious social incongruity, a definition which I find rather amusing.

Inspiration: True human excellence, the kind that grabs your attention and makes you want to do something great yourself.

Awe: Even bigger than inspiration, it’s goodness on a grand scale that makes you feel a part of something larger than yourself.

Love: The positive emotion that’s kind of like all of the others rolled into one.

Expand Your Happy

Use Fredrickson’s list to help you get more specific as you keep noticing – really noticing, for at least thirty seconds at a time – your positive emotions.
Just don’t go so overboard with labeling then that you forget to feel them.

That would be kind of like being able to name every bird in the woods without reveling in their magic.

On the other hand, not knowing any of their names leaves you stuck trying to describe all the amazing birds you saw on your walk as, “you know, the ones with feathers.”

Go beyond happy, to positive emotion, to get happier.


Navigating change? I can help you create ways to boost your positivity that can help you get where you want to go – and enjoy the journey. Schedule a complimentary, 30-minute call to discuss ways we can work together.

Spread the love