The Secret to Personal Growth and Improved Social Functioning

If I were to offer you an opportunity to make you feel better about yourself, improve your general overall health, and enhance your social relationships with others, would you take it?

You probably should. Or at least consider it, since the manner to achieve these goals certainly isn’t out of reach. What is this secret formula you ask? The response is simple.


According to a multitude of recent social psychological studies, feeling positive creates a great number of personal and social advantages. The frequent experience of positive affect is associated with multiple indicators of good health and well being, as well as having been linked with enhanced creativity and a more open-minded outlook. This evidence suggests that happy, optimistic people feel better about themselves, thus stimulating performance within the cognitive and social domains. The power of happiness not only creates a sense of inner self-contentment, but also creates improved problem solving abilities that spills over into social relationships. Group collaboration is markedly improved based on the positive affect of the participants, with participants more willing to work together and provide a deeper level of creativity and ingenuity in their responses.

Social Psychologists Donna Webster Nelson and Erin K. Sim expanded upon these findings in a recent study to consider the extent that mood plays on traditional and social problem solving. They discovered that participants primed to feel a positive, affective state generated better solutions to fictitious social problems than participants primed to experience a neutral or negative affect.

In their experiment, fifty-four female and twenty male students from a mid-sized southeastern university were randomly assigned a positive or neutral affect condition. In each case, they read a series of 25 statements developed by Seibert and Ellis (1991) as a means of inducing the relevant affective state. For instance, positive statements could include phrases such as “being in college makes my dreams more possible,” whereas a statement designed to induce a neutral affect could read “it snows in Idaho.” After reading these statements, participants were then given the task of responding to four hypothetical social scenarios. Each vignette began with the protagonist facing an undesirable social situation and ended with the desired outcome. It was the job of the participants to provide a middle section of the story that would lead to the desired ending. Rated by independent observers on a 5-point Likert-type scale from 1 (not at all effective) to 5 (extremely effective), Nelson and Kim discovered that participants primed to feel a positive affect provided more effective and creative solutions to these social problems than those primed to experience a neutral affect.

While this study utilized a relatively homogenous sample group, that being students from the same school thereby leading to reliable inferences of similar age demographics and perhaps socioeconomic backgrounds, it does allow for the generalization that positive emotions yield more creative solutions.

This suggests that drawing upon positive emotions at appropriate times when facing unfamiliar or otherwise stressful social experiences is likely to help individuals function more effectively across a variety of situations. It is likely that individuals living in modern society will inevitably encounter challenging social situations that cannot be remedied by a simple solution. The extent to which individuals can produce creative responses to social problems has far-reaching implications, and by capitalizing on the rewards of positive affect, it could have a positive effect on social and business relationships. Thinking of these results in the context of a working environment, happy workers with an enhanced capacity for creativity and idea production could lead to productivity growth within a given company.

So maybe now wouldn’t be such a bad idea to suggest that company ice cream outing to your boss. After all, happy employees are more creative and better collaborators. And hey, it might just get you a free DQ Blizzard on the company credit card. Win-win on both accounts.

Nelson, Donna Webster, & Sim, Erin K. (2014). Positive Affect facilitates socialproblem                           solving. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 44, 635-642.

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