Research Supported Approaches for Teachers

The Role of Positive Emotions and the Fluffy Fallacy

Barbara Fredrickson, from the University of North Carolina, has studied positive emotions for many years. She has demonstrated in laboratory experiments that positive emotions broaden behavior responses, while negative emotion can narrow our responses. “Do what feels good” is a phrase we often rapidly reject as short-sighted and irresponsible. However, we can be too quick to dismiss the importance of feeling good—the frequent experience of positive emotions. A quick dismissal of this concept is what we call “the Fluffy Fallacy,” the belief that paying attention to positive emotions is a trivial waste of time.

The Fluffy Fallacy rests on the assumption that concerns about whether young people and their adult mentors are happy, engaged, and enjoying themselves are somehow unserious or fluffy. Individuals operating under the Fluffy Fallacy act as if feeling good has no part in learning, achievement, and success. When boldly stated, studied, and observed, most of us begin to question the Fluffy Fallacy, as we should. As you have already seen in the chapters on strengths—individuals operating from their strengths experience more positive emotions and tend to produce more positive results. The positive outcomes of these two are related.

The Fluffy Fallacy suggests that achievement and positive emotions are a zero-sum game, where having more of one means having less of the other. It is a fallacy because, as it turns out, increasing our ratio of positive to negative emotions generally results in superior performance for individuals, pairs, and teams. The evidence points to garnering personal accomplishments when positive emotions and meaningful achievements sustain one another for extended periods of high productivity and well-being. When it happens, we say, “I’m on a roll!”

Your Emotional ATM

Barbara Fredrickson’s exciting and powerful body of work has helped us understand more about the role of positive emotions. She has established that positive emotions enable and prompt us to grow and connect. While experiencing positive emotions, we tend to think more broadly and display a greater range in our behaviors.