10 Common Positive Emotions Beyond Happiness

Verywell / Alison Czinkota

Part of being happy is feeling happy, moment to moment, throughout our lives. But what does "feeling happy" really mean? Is it the feeling we get eating an ice cream cone in the heat of summer? The feeling we get sitting next to someone we deeply love? The feeling we get when something goes our way?


Without understanding more of the nuance behind the phrase "feeling happy," we can miss opportunities for positive emotion in our life. In her book Positivity, psychologist Barbara Fredrickson suggests that we experience a range of positive emotions and that each of these helps us to build resources or broaden our perspective in useful ways.

There are a number of positive emotions that can play a role in happiness. Take a quick look at those 10 common positive emotions and what they do for us.


When we are surprised or delighted with an unanticipated good thing, joy follows. Think of the moment you enjoy a fantastic meal at a new restaurant or when you plan a visit with a good friend. Joy is a signal that the situation is safe and encourages us to embrace the experience and savor the moment.

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Thankfulness is what emerges when we recognize that someone else’s effort created a benefit for us. We feel grateful for gifts given, kindnesses extended, and time invested.

The feeling of gratitude motivates us to consider ways that we might pay it forward by showing care and thoughtfulness to others.


When we accomplish a goal or contribute in an important way, we feel pride in our own abilities. Whether it’s getting the promotion you’ve worked hard for or sticking to a fitness goal for six weeks, recognizing our own abilities provides us with the necessary motivation to continue setting and achieving goals in the future.


We feel serene or content when we find ourselves in circumstances that feel right and easy. Think of a lazy Sunday morning with the family or enjoying the calm and quiet of a walk through a garden. Serenity, Frederickson argues, encourages us to savor the present moment, and reevaluate our priorities, deepening our understanding of ourselves.


We get curious about the world when we encounter something new and feel safe to explore it. Whether it’s binge-reading articles on your favorite subject or discovering a new neighborhood in your town, interest invites us to explore and learn so that we gain knowledge.


From refined wit to slapstick hijinks, amusement or humor is the emotion tied to laughter. Psychologists cite “nonserious social incongruity” as the source of our humor when we simultaneously perceive an event from two different or even incompatible perspectives (think of your favorite bad pun).

But whatever it is that makes you chuckle, when we do it with others, we strengthen our bonds to those people even more.


Hope is the positive emotion we feel when we envision a brighter future and often helps us through hard times. Although it may be accompanied by fear or sadness, hope pushes us to take steps to create a better tomorrow through sustaining optimism and resilience.


When we see another person act from the best of themselves, we are inspired to strive for our best. Whether we witness an act of high moral character or a performance displaying excellence and mastery, inspiration helps us connect the greatness in others to the potential for greatness in ourselves.


Something is truly awesome when it pulls us in and brings us a sense of connectedness to something bigger than ourselves. Grandiose goodness or beauty, like a view of the starlit sky from a remote place, can stop us in our tracks, overpowered by wonder and respect. Awe transforms our views on the world and our place in it.


The most frequently felt positive emotion, Frederickson defines love as the shared experience of any of the above positive emotions with someone you care about. These moments allow us to know others more deeply and focus on their well-being.

These moments, over time in a caring relationship, forge intimacy, and trust.

Which one of these emotions do you feel least frequently in your own life? Choose one. For a week or two, focus on creating moments to experience it and enjoy a new shade of happy.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gervais M, Wilson DS. The evolution and functions of laughter and humor: a synthetic approach. Q Rev Biol. 2005;80(4):395-430. doi:10.1086/498281

  2. Otero MC, Wells JL, Chen KH, et al. Behavioral indices of positivity resonance associated with long-term marital satisfaction. Emotion. 2019. doi:10.1037/emo0000634

By Derrick Carpenter
Derrick Carpenter is a positive psychology coach at Happify, a website and app that uses science-based activities to help people live happier lives.