Beyond Happiness: Building a Science of Discrete Positive Emotions

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Abstract

While trait positive emotionality and state positive-valence affect have long been the subject of intense study, the importance of differentiating among several “discrete” positive emotions has only recently begun to receive serious attention. In this article, we synthesize existing literature on positive emotion differentiation, proposing that the positive emotions are best described as branches of a “family tree” emerging from a common ancestor mediating adaptive management of fitness-critical resources (e.g., food). Examples are presented of research indicating the importance of differentiating several positive emotion constructs. We then offer a new theoretical framework, built upon a foundation of phylogenetic, neuroscience, and behavioral evidence, that accounts for core features as well as mechanisms for differentiation. We propose several directions for future research suggested by this framework and develop implications for the application of positive emotion research to translational issues in clinical psychology and the science of behavior change.

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