Before diving too deep into positive emotions, we should start by making sure we’re all on the same page about emotions, and positive emotions in particular.
Positive emotions are not simply “happy feelings” that we chase to feel momentary pleasure; like the more negative emotions, they play a significant role in everyday life.
There are many ways to define “emotion,” but they generally fall into one of two camps:
- Emotions are a state or feeling that cannot be conjured up at will.
- Emotions are attitudes or responses to a situation or an object, like judgments (Zemach, 2001).
Most current scholars fall into the second camp, viewing emotions as the outcome or result of something, provoked by an action or by being on the receiving end of an action. The implications of embracing one view over the other are fascinating, but for the purposes of understanding positive emotions and their role in psychology, it’s not necessary to choose between the two camps; whether we can consciously choose our positive emotions or whether they are a direct result of some action or experience, it is mainly their effects that are of interest to the positive psychologist.