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Positive Psychology

The Unexpected Benefits of Positivity

Personal Perspective: Want to be more generous and help others to be as well?

Key points

  • Accepting kindness from others allows for a positive upward spiral of emotions to continue.
  • Positivity can expand our minds and hearts, making us more open to others and seeing the big picture.
  • Cultivate positivity to prime for prosocial behavior before engaging in challenging situations.
Source: Courtesy of Suzie Pileggi Pawelski
James and Liam at Lincoln Financial Field to watch the Eagles play the Cowboys.
Source: Courtesy of Suzie Pileggi Pawelski

For our son's 13th birthday, we bought him much-coveted tickets to see our hometown Philadelphia Eagles play at Lincoln Financial Field against their archrival, the Dallas Cowboys. It was a nail-biter of a game, down to the final drive and the heart-pounding final 46 seconds.

It seemed time stood still, especially during the final five seconds. I didn't hear a peep from anyone until the Eagles' defense kept Dallas out of the end zone, and our beloved "Birds" won the game. Everyone finally exhaled, and the stadium broke out in joyous cheering.

As fans excitedly filed out of the stadium, everyone high-fived one another and recounted the final play and pivotal win that brought our cherished Eagles to an 8-1 record. One of us (James) cheerfully mentioned to a random man standing next to him how delighted he was since tickets to the game were a birthday gift for our son.

After the quick exchange, the gentleman's high spirits prompted him to ask our son Liam to pick any jersey he'd like as a birthday gift.

James and Liam were both surprised by the sudden generosity of the fellow fan. They thanked him for his kind offer but said it wasn't necessary. Especially since an Eagles jersey costs upwards of $130, it's quite a lot of money for anyone to spend on a jersey. Let alone for a stranger to spend that much on a gift for someone they had just met moments ago.

The kindhearted gentleman insisted that James and Liam allow him to purchase a Darius Slay jersey. After all, we have talked to our son and written about the importance of giving and accepting kindness as well as gratitude from others. We wanted to make sure we practiced what we preached.

Source: Courtesy of Suzie Pileggi Pawelski
The kindhearted Eagles fan who bought our son a jersey. We blurred out his face to maintain his privacy.
Source: Courtesy of Suzie Pileggi Pawelski

Not accepting someone's kindness, compliments, or gifts can be like slamming a door in someone's face and stopping the upward spiral of positive emotions. As we write in Happy Together, "Kindness is motivated by an emotional connection, a sense of common humanity we feel with others."

And that common humanity we feel often occurs when we collectively experience joy together like we have watching an uplifting Eagles or Phillies game together with tens of thousands of fellow fans. Who in their right mind would want to shut down that sort of joyous connection with others?

The Power and Possibilities of Positivity

Positive emotions don't just feel good; they're good for us. And they are also good for others. When we experience them, a visceral change occurs in our bodies. Our minds and hearts expand. As a result, we see more similarities, rather than differences, in the world and feel closer to others.

Positivity helps us to see the big picture and be more open to other people's viewpoints. We are more likely to understand, cooperate, and compromise. Additionally, we are more likely to reach out and connect with others, which can lead to prosocial behavior.

In our personal incident, it was a $130 jersey that a kind stranger bought our son. What if, in other situations, the positivity can lead to something even bigger?

Imagine for a moment the possibilities of positivity when we open our hearts, minds and wallets to support others. Volunteering for an important cause or donating to a research foundation to help find a cure for a debilitating disease. Or using our talents to help working towards peace. The possibilities are priceless.

Priming for Prosocial Behavior

What if we primed people for prosocial behavior in our daily lives, especially during tough times?

Perhaps we intentionally help ourselves and others feel good before managing what we know will be a challenging situation. Since positivity is contagious, maybe we can drum up some positivity at the office before engaging with a cantankerous colleague. And we can actively seek to cultivate positive emotions at home in advance of initiating a difficult conversation with our significant other. Some suggestions are as follows:

  • Begin a workplace meeting by sharing positive news about the organization and, more importantly, the specific individuals in the room before tackling problems. Highlight the personal strengths and wins of each employee before pointing out needed areas of improvement. Strengths spotting is linked to increased well-being. Be sure to end the meeting on a high note as well.
  • Incorporate a regular gratitude practice with your colleagues. Have everyone share something they're grateful for in their lives. Make it a goal that your practice becomes part of the company's overall corporate culture. Don't limit your gratitude practice to only your work life. Bring it home to your family as well, since gratitude is associated with greater life satisfaction and thriving relationships.
  • Make kindness a daily practice in your life with your spouse or significant other. Focus on finding small opportunities to express kindness through your words and actions. Researcher John Gottman found happy couples overwhelmingly prioritize kindness in their relationships. In fact, they make many more positive comments than negative ones to each other. This healthy behavior strengthens their relationships and helps them navigate problems better when they arise.

In sum, don't underestimate the feel-good emotion of positivity. When we feel good we tend to do good. Prosocial behaviors like helping others tend to follow positivity. And it works the other way around as well. It's a win-win for all. So why not start giving positivity a try right now?


Layous, K, S. Nelson, K., Kurtz, J. L., & Lyubomirsky, S (2017) What triggers prosocial effort? A positive feedback loop between positive activities, kindness, and well-being, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 12:4, 385-398, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2016.1198924

Pileggi Pawelski, S., Pawelski, J.O. (2018). Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts. NY: TarcherPerigee.

More from Suzie Pileggi Pawelski, MAPP and James Pawelski, Ph.D.
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