Positive emotions and positive psychology

Students experience and express a range of emotions every day. Focusing on positive emotions is one way you can help them build the skills they need in order to focus in the classroom and deal with life’s ups and downs.

This information will help you:

  • define positive emotions

  • explore ways to imbed positive emotion strategies in the classroom.

Girl sitting in group smiling at camera

What are positive emotions?

‘Positive emotions’ doesn’t just mean feeling happy all the time. A range of other emotions can also increase focus and success and, over time, improve student wellbeing. These emotions include:

  • joy

  • amusement

  • hope

  • pride

  • interest

  • compassion

  • gratitude.

Every student will display these emotions differently, and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Being mindful of the different types of positive emotions is the first step in encouraging them among students in your classroom.

Why are positive emotions useful in a classroom?

Research shows that focusing on positive emotions has a range of benefits, including:

  • broadened ideas or activities

  • improved performance-related outcomes

  • improved general wellbeing

  • decreased feelings of stress

  • reduced negative emotions.

By encouraging positive emotions among your students, you will assist them to be more focused and achieve better learning outcomes. Most importantly, they will also build their resilience, which will have a positive impact on their overall wellbeing.

How can I support my students?

There are lots of different ways to bring positive emotions into focus in the classroom. The following are a few suggested activities you could use.

1. Identify positive emotions

Because everyone is different, the first step is to ask your students to stop and think about the things that make them feel positive:

  • Build a list of positive emotions together as a class.

  • Ask students to pick five emotions and then write about moments that make them feel these emotions in their daily lives.

  • Complete activities specific to a positive emotion – for example, writing letters of gratitude, or sharing things that give students joy.

  • Teach students about emotional awareness and self-regulation to help them identify the effects of positive emotions themselves.

2. Take notice

Your students might already be experiencing and demonstrating a range of positive emotions, but unless we all take notice, it can be hard to identify them. Here are some suggestions for things you can do:

  • Help students to find the ‘silver lining’ in what they otherwise see as a negative experience.

  • Provide positive feedback to students when they use positive emotions such as optimism, pride and compassion.

  • Use examples from topics that make students feel confident.

  • Use mindfulness exercises or meditation to help the class reflect on things they are grateful for.

3. Ask: ‘What went well?’

Dedicate some time in your class’s routine to reflecting on things that went well. This could be whole-class or individual reflection. Some ideas for doing this include:

  • Ask each student to write a WWW (What Went Well?) at the end of a lesson.

  • Brainstorm all the things that have gone well during a particular week, lesson or weekend.

  • Following a challenging time or task, ask students to think about any positive aspects of the experience.

What can I do now?

  • Teach students about resilience with ReachOut Schools’ classroom activities.

  • Lead by example: think of something that makes you feel positive and bring it into the classroom.

  • Read more about the PERMA model and consider some ideas for bringing it to your classroom.