Play and positive emotions have a purpose.

Many of us enjoy the playful moments of life, whether it’s a video game, joking with friends or a simple game of cards. Yet, as we get older, play is often taken less seriously despite the social and emotional health benefits it brings. For example, play can makes us laugh and laughter has been linked to many physical health benefits.

But what’s the real purpose of the positive emotions from play? It turns out that they may actually serve an evolutionary advantage. This is highlighted by the Broaden and Build theory of positive emotions. This suggests that positive emotions help us expand our cognitive and social resources. One example of this is how the positive emotion of curiosity encourages us to learn and explore new things.

Another positive emotion is awe, which is theorized to be an intense emotional response to something extraordinarily vast. Awe creates a sense of disbelief as we try to make our experience conform to our existing beliefs. The science is still very young, but some other characteristics of awe include:

  • A sense of smallness (e.g. a “quiet” ego)
  • Collective nature (e.g. feeling connected to a bigger purpose)
  • Physiological markers like goosebumps
  • Altered-time perception (e.g. feel like we have more time)

Pretty cool, right? And of course experiencing awe has similar benefits to other positive emotions such as reduced stress and decreased inflammation. The latter is linked to a whole range of common health problems such as arthritis, heart disease and diabetes.

We talked about the magic of curiosity in a prior article. It turns out that curiosity and awe somewhat interact with each other as highlighted by a recent study, which showed that awe can make us more aware of the gaps in our knowledge. 

So what if we could harness the benefits of both awe and curiosity by creating magical moments of wonder, for both ourselves and our peers? A lofty aspiration? Perhaps… But here at Abracademy we believe in doing the impossible and bringing more magic, and wonder, to the world. 

Click here to check out Abracademy’s Magical Moments workshops

By Steve Bagienski
Abracademy’s resident Wizard of Science

References

Bennett, M. P., & Lengacher, C. (2009). Humor and laughter may influence health IV. humor and immune function. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 6(2), 159-164.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218.

Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and emotion, 17(2), 297-314.

Stellar, J. E., John-Henderson, N., Anderson, C. L., Gordon, A. M., McNeil, G. D., & Keltner, D. (2015). Positive affect and markers of inflammation: Discrete positive emotions predict lower levels of inflammatory cytokines. Emotion, 15(2), 129.

Yaden, D. B., Kaufman, S. B., Hyde, E., Chirico, A., Gaggioli, A., Zhang, J. W., & Keltner, D. (2018). The development of the Awe Experience Scale (AWE-S): A multifactorial measure for a complex emotion. The journal of positive psychology, 1-15.

McPhetres, J. (2019). Oh, the things you don’t know: awe promotes awareness of knowledge gaps and science interest. Cognition and Emotion, 1-17.

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