Fredricksons broadenandbuild theory of happiness

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Barbara Fredrickson (1998, 2001) has proposed the so-called broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. The broaden component of the theory refers to the current function of positive emotions; whereas negative emotions are considered to restrict the available thought-action repertoires and increase the likelihood of specific action tendencies, positive emotions are considered to do the opposite. That is, positive emotions are considered to broaden the range of available thought-action tendencies, such as encouraging play, exploration, and creative links to be made (see e.g., Isen, 1999, for a summary). The span of attention is also considered to broaden, as demonstrated in a global-local visual processing task in which participants with an induced positive mood were found to be more likely to make global judgements, whereas participants in induced negative or neutral states make more local rather than global choices (Fredrickson & Branigan, 2005).

The second component of the theory is that positive emotions are considered to build on the existing resources of the individual. That is, the experience of positive emotions that increase flexibility and creativity in thinking should in turn build increased resources and resilience for the individual and, in line with the positive psychology movement, lead to the flourishing of the individual. Fredrickson (2005) has summarised a number of longitudinal studies of individuals, married couples, and business teams in which ratios of positive to negative emotions of 3:1 or better lead to flourishing individuals, flourishing marriages, and flourishing teams (see also Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005). Although there is an earlier tradition based on the Golden Section or Phi of the presence of a balance of a higher ratio (of 1.6178:1) of positive to negative in healthy individuals (e.g., Schwartz, 1992), the flourishing individual clearly has the bar set even higher.

The broaden-and-build theory has clearly identified an important role for positive emotions in the control of attentional and thinking processes and in the development of resilience in the individual. However, it remains to be seen if all positive emotions have this function; thus, the positive emotion of amusement has been shown not to broaden attention (Finucane & Whiteman, 2007). One is also reminded of the negative attitude to certain positive emotions such as pride, which certainly in the Ifaluk and in traditional Christianity are seen to lead to an increase in the individual's selfishness and reduce social awareness (Lutz, 1988).

To summarise, in this section we have looked at research investigating avowed happiness and the reasons people are able to generate for that happiness. It is clear that such research, while often illuminating and provoking, suffers from the lack of an overarching theoretical framework within which to approach the numerous issues that are generated. In addition, there seems a clear need to move away from self-reports of happiness to a more objective theoretical approach. There is considerable evidence, for example, that people are influenced by culturally shared theories rather than their own phenomenal experience of cause and effect when generating self-report data (e.g., Nisbett & Wilson, 1977) and this work is reviewed by McIntosh and Martin (1991) with respect to happiness. Perhaps even more illuminating, with respect to the need to shift away from the self-report approach, is the anecdotal description by Friedman (1978) of the problems involved in researching happiness using interview techniques. Apparently, in Friedman's research, when interviewed in small groups, people joked and made light of the topic of happiness; in contrast, when interviewed on an individual basis, they became very serious and found it difficult to talk at all about the topic. Friedman's research assistant concluded that it would be easier to ask people about intimate details of their sexual lives than about what makes them happy.

Discussing these anecdotal points, Averill and More suggest that the fact that happiness involves an evaluation of life as a whole and touches upon an individual's deepest goals and ideals means that, to talk about the subject seriously, it is necessary to drop all pretences and admit to shortcomings as well as successes. This, they suggest, makes happiness difficult to discuss not just for the individual in a research study but for the emotion theorist as well. A related point concerns the difference between happiness and more circumscribed emotions such as sadness, anger, or disgust. The circumscribed nature of the latter examples means that it is easier for participants to translate how they are feeling into answers to questionnaire items such as "are you feeling sad" or "are you currently angry". In contrast, the broad scope and elusive nature of happiness ensures that simple inventory measures and the single-item measures of the form "How happy are you?" that are so beloved of population surveys and national comparisons will always suffer from problems of validity (Power, 2003).

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Belief Change 101

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