Eat more ice cream?

Unfortunately, no. For most people, that generates pleasure, not positive emotion. Pleasure and positive emotion often come wrapped together — eating ice cream as part of a social gathering, or enjoying sexual pleasure as part of a loving relationship — but it’s important to distinguish between the two. “Pleasures are more triggered by physical sensations,” Barbara Fredrickson says. “Positive emotions are more triggered by finding positive meaning in a given circumstance.” She suspects that pleasure actually narrows thinking, because of the intense focus on the physical sensation. “I don’t think pleasures are bad,” she says. “They just don’t necessarily buy you as much meaning-based positive emotion.”

Change the way you think

Positive emotions can’t be forced, but changes in thinking patterns can. “Just saying ‘I’m going to be happy,’ doesn’t do it,” Fredrickson says. “But if you frame things you encounter as gifts to be treasured, that unlocks emotions of gratitude. If you can view your circumstances as going your way, even better than you expected, joy pops up.”

Lose yourself

When you become so involved in an activity that the whole world goes away, you are experiencing a positive emotional state that psychologists call “flow.” Practicing a skill, craft, or sport also generates a sense of accomplishment and well-earned pride.

Go for a walk — outside

One of Fredrickson’s colleagues in Michigan showed that people who spent more time outside in beautiful weather (high pressure or warm — not hot — temperatures) experienced more positive emotions.

Stop and smell the roses

“Most moments in life are at least mildly positive,” Fredrickson says. “But negative things just jump out and scream at you.” Give positive moments their due — train yourself to look for them and appreciate them.

Get off the treadmill

A new gadget may make you happy, but usually not for long. The urge to regain that happiness by purchasing a bigger, better gadget puts you on the “hedonic treadmill.” Positive actions can also lose their luster through repetition. For those who tire of the daily gratitude journal, Fredrickson suggests varying the content and the timing of the entries. “Increase the variety in how you approach things,” she says. “Keep things fresh.”


Research has shown loving-kindness meditation to be a remarkably reliable way to produce positive emotions. (The research specifically applies to loving-kindness meditation, but this doesn’t mean that other types of meditation don’t produce similar results.) “Meditation works because every day it’s a new challenge,” Fredrickson says. She’s a daily meditator herself.