A woman who knows how to feel positive emotions, smiling and holding balloons

Do you know how to feel positive emotions? How does connecting with other people make you feel good?

Ali Abdaal says there are three sources of positive emotions that he calls energizers. While there are any number of things that can help you feel good—and therefore make you more productive—they all tie back to one or more of these fundamental sources. 

Let’s discuss each of Abdaal’s three sources of well-being: having fun, empowering yourself, and connecting with other people.  

Source #1: Fun

Abdaal’s first piece of advice on how to feel positive emotions is to have more fun. He says people are hardwired to have fun. You most likely know this from experience: As a child you probably spent countless hours running around, making up games, and playing with whatever had your attention at the moment. There wasn’t a career goal or life plan behind any of this; you were simply having fun because that’s what came naturally to you.

Unfortunately, Abdaal adds, many people lose that sense of fun as they grow up. This happens because our culture teaches that adults are supposed to stop playing games and take life seriously. However, you can recapture that youthful feeling of joy and excitement by finding the little games in everything you do. Abdaal provides three game-based strategies to help you reintegrate playfulness into your life.

Find Your Gaming Style

Abdaal’s first strategy is to figure out what kind of player you are. If your life were a video game, how would you approach it? For instance, some people want to plan out the most efficient way to complete each quest, while others enjoy simply wandering around and seeing what they find. Some like to entertain their fellow players with jokes and stories, and some prefer to seek out opponents for the thrill of competition. 

Once you know what kind of player you are, Abdaal suggests approaching each day with that player’s mindset. For instance, if you’ve decided that you’re a competitive player, you might try challenging a friend at work to see who can get more done during a single shift.

Make Work Engaging

Second, make your work engaging. People can spend hours playing video games because they’re designed to hold your attention: They have bright colors, exciting music, engaging characters, and regular rewards to keep you playing. Abdaal says that you can add any or all of these features to your own tasks. 

For example, if you’re preparing a presentation about a boring topic, you could add some bright colors or an amusing picture. Perhaps you could chat with a friend while you work on it, or treat yourself to a small piece of candy after finishing each section of the presentation. 

In short, find the joy in what you’re doing, not just in what you’ve gotten done—after all, you play games because they’re fun, not just so you can get to the end.

Recognize That You Do Your Best Work When You’re Having Fun

Finally, recognize the difference between fun and frivolity. Abdaal says there’s a common misconception that people who are enjoying themselves aren’t taking things seriously, as if it’s impossible to give your all and have fun at the same time. However, according to the principles of feel-good productivity, the opposite is true: People can only do their best work when they’re having fun.

Source #2: Empowerment

Abdaal’s second source of emotional well-being is empowerment, by which he means having a sense of control over your actions, work, and life. He gives three suggestions about how to empower yourself.

Pretend You’re Already Empowered

Abdaal’s first suggestion is to be bold. Even if you don’t feel like you’re in control, you can still act like you are. Imagine yourself as somebody with great confidence and self-esteem, and pretend to be that person. With time and practice, it will feel less and less like pretending. 

In other words: Fake it until you make it. 

See How You’ve Already Improved, Then Keep Improving

Abdaal’s second tip for self-empowerment is to constantly assess and improve your abilities. This helps because knowing that you’re good at what you do will give you a sense of power and control. So, if you’re ever feeling self-conscious about your skills at work or elsewhere, take some time to remember how far you’ve come.

For example, if you like to draw, there will be times when you’re not satisfied with something you’ve created—but if you compare that drawing to something you made when you were just starting out, you’ll realize just how skilled an artist you’ve become since then.

Also, further improving your skills will give you a sense of hope. This is because, even if a situation isn’t what you want it to be, you’ll know that you can improve yourself and eventually change that situation. For instance, if you’re passed over for a promotion at work, you’ll know that you can redouble your efforts and get promoted next time.

Take Responsibility for Everything

Abdaal’s third suggestion is to take responsibility for everything you do. Though it seems counterintuitive, accepting the consequences of your decisions and your actions is a major part of feeling like you’re in control of your life. That’s because, when you take accountability, you understand that what you do really matters. On the other hand, if you avoid accountability, then it will feel like your actions have no effect on you—in other words, it will seem like you have no control over your own life. 

The author adds that even when you can’t choose your tasks or goals (a common situation in the workplace, for instance) you still have control over your mindset and actions. That means it’s up to you whether you want to complain and do a halfhearted job, or to give each task your all even if it’s not what you want to be doing.

Source #3: Connection

Abdaal’s third and final source of emotional well-being is connecting with other people. Look for people who naturally boost your well-being and your energy, and spend as much time with them as possible. Simply put, you’ll be happier if you have good people around you.

One way to build connections, or strengthen existing ones, is to help people when they need it. This is effective because working together naturally brings people closer, and helping others creates bonds of gratitude and goodwill that often lead to new friendships. 

Furthermore, you don’t have to wait until someone asks you for help—small acts of kindness can brighten someone’s day and often make them want to do the same for you. On that note, remember that connections work both ways; accepting kindness from others will strengthen your connections just as surely as helping them will. 

(Shortform note: Abdaal is essentially saying that you feel better when you spend time with good friends. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done for many people. In fact, it’s notoriously hard for adults to make friends; for example, one study found that the average American in 2004 had zero close friends. In addition to Abdaal’s suggestions above, one reliable method for making new friends is to join a local group dedicated to a subject or hobby that interests you. This works because, by regularly attending that group, you’ll naturally meet and spend time with other people who share your interest.)

Abdaal’s other suggestion for strengthening connections is to communicate more, and more effectively. He adds that, while it’s important to share your positive thoughts—good news, compliments, and so on—if you only share positive thoughts you might come across as shallow or inauthentic. Therefore, it’s equally important to share some of your negative thoughts: your problems, concerns, and (if appropriate) criticisms. Remember, connection isn’t just about getting people to like you, it’s about getting people to understand and accept you.

(Shortform note: One common obstacle to effective communication is a lack of vocabulary, especially when it comes to talking about ourselves. In Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown says that many people can only identify three feelings: happiness, sadness, and anger. Those three terms aren’t nearly enough to cover the entire scope of human experiences, so people often have trouble expressing themselves and understanding each other. As a result, they’re unable to form meaningful connections with one another, and they miss out on the emotional fulfillment that comes with those connections. Therefore, it’s helpful to learn more (and more specific) labels for emotions in order to discuss them more effectively.) 

How to Feel Positive Emotions: 3 Sources of Energy

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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