Activities: Understanding Emotions

Personal Development Interventions

The exercises below focus on identifying and enhancing your positive-to-negative emotion ratio.

Both have been found to enhance wellbeing and success across life domains.

1 Positive emotions

Positive emotions are important for our ability to thrive and flourish.

Monitor your positive-to-negative ratio (aiming for 3:1) over the next two weeks using Barbara Fredrickson’s free and easy-to-use website (, which calculates your positivity ratio. Document your ratios daily, as the more data you have, the better you can judge how you actually feel across time rather than just on the day.

2 Emotional intelligence

How would you like to increase your emotional intelligence?

The following exercises expand your EQ by developing each of the four components of the ability model. Try them out over the upcoming week.

Perceiving: The next time you talk with a friend, take the time to see if his or her facial expressions match the conversation.

If you are always happy, don’t assume that others are. Take the time to look and listen.

Using: The next time you write an essay, take heed of the scientific findings that positive moods enable creative thinking, whereas neutral moods enhance editing and analytical thinking. Use this knowledge in your writing-up process.

Understanding: The next time you are angry, stop and write down why you feel this.

Anger may be an emotion that starts out as hurt or sadness. Trace the chain of emotions to get to the source of the problem.

Managing: The next time you feel like immediately exploding with anger, think about whether or not this is the appropriate emotion to display given your situation.

We need to manage our emotions and regulate them so that they are expressed in appropriate social contexts.

Reflect on your thoughts and how you actually handled the situation.

Measurement Tools

Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS)

(Watson et al., 1988)


This scale consists of several words describing different feelings and emotions.

Read each item and then mark the appropriate answer in the space next to that word.

Indicate to what extent you felt this way in the last week.

Use the following scale to record your answers:

1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5

very slightly – a little – moderately – quite a bit – extremely – or not at all

___ interested ___ scared

___ distressed ___ hostile

___ excited ___ enthusiastic

___ upset ___ proud

___ strong ___ irritable

___ guilty ___ alert

___ ashamed ___ attentive

___ inspired ___ jittery

___ nervous ___ active

___ determined ___ afraid


To score this scale, simply add the positive items (interested, alert, excited, inspired, strong, enthusiastic, proud, active, attentive, and determined) and retain a summative score for these.

Do the same for the negative items and compare them.

Interpretation Your scores for the positive affect items should outweigh the negative scores (hopefully in a 3:1 ratio).


This is a widely used scale developed by Watson and Tellegen in the late 1980s.

It is used across psychological and physical activity research.

It is based on monitoring 20 emotion adjectives (ten positive and ten negative).

The scale can be administered using different temporal instructions, ranging from ‘right now’ to ‘in the last week/month/year.’

The creators believe that when researchers use a shorter time frame, they tap into emotional responses. In contrast, a longer time frame will highlight mood or personality differences.

The internal consistency is quite high (0.86–0.90). The PANAS has acceptable divergent validity, with good correlations between negative affect and measures of distress and psychopathology.

Criticisms of the PANAS include that several items on this tool are not emotions (for example, alert). Several important positive emotions for wellbeing are missing from the scale (love, contentment) (Shiota et al., 2006).

Scale of Positive and Negative Experience (SPANE)

(Diener et al., 2009)


Think about what you have been doing and experiencing during the past four weeks.

Then report how much you experienced each of the following feelings using the scale below.

For each item, select a number from 1 to 5, and indicate that number on your response sheet.

1 Very rarely or never

2 Rarely

3 Sometimes

4 Often

5 Very often or always

_____ Positive

_____ Negative

_____ Good

_____ Bad

_____ Pleasant

_____ Unpleasant

_____ Happy

_____ Sad

_____ Afraid

_____ Joyful

_____ Angry

_____ Contented


To calculate positive feelings (SPANE-P), add the scores for the six items: positive, good, pleasant, happy, joyful, and contented.

The score can vary from 6 (lowest possible) to 30 (highest positive feelings score).

To calculate negative feelings (SPANE-N), add the scores for the six items: negative, bad, unpleasant, sad, afraid, and angry.

The score can vary from 6 (lowest possible) to 30 (highest negative feelings score).

To calculate affect balance (SPANE-B), subtract the negative feelings score from the positive feelings score.

The resulting difference score can vary from (-) 24 (unhappiest possible) to 24 (highest affect balance possible).


If you scored 24, this is a very high score, which assumes that you hardly experience the negative feelings mentioned, if you experience them at all, and very often or always have all of the positive feelings.


This is a new scale developed by some of the authors of the Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS) (Diener et al., 1985).

It contains 12 items, which are argued to focus equally on a broad range of positive and negative emotions (Diener et al., 2009).

2.1 Exercise: Emotion & Memory

Take out a photo album you have not seen in a long time. Perhaps it is a childhood album, a wedding album, or images from a holiday trip. Spend time looking at the images and pay attention to your feelings. Pay attention to physiological reactions in your body. Are you smiling? Relaxed? Sitting upright? Pay attention, also, to how your emotions shift. Do they change rapidly? Are they relatively constant? Are they easy to identify, or do they seem to be a blend of feelings? Freely write your insights about your feelings:

2.2 Reflection

What do you think about emotions, and where do these beliefs come from?

What prejudices might you hold against emotions, or what might you find appealing about them? Take a moment and think about how “emotional” a person you are. Where do you think you learned these affective trends? How does the culture in which you live affect how you express feelings? How does your primary relationship factor in? How might your family of origin have influenced your emotionality? Freely write your answer:

2.3 Reflection: Expressing your feelings

How do you tend to express emotion? Would your friends describe you as emotional or stoic? Are there certain feelings, like sadness, that you are comfortable with and others, such as anger, that you are less comfortable with? Consider these questions earnestly and write your answers:

2.4 Reflection:

Your Past Positivity Successes

  1. A) Take a moment and consider your home life. How do you increase the positivity at home or within your family? Do you use praise? Recreation? Gifts? Humor?

What about the physical layout of your house? Have you made changes to your décor or furniture arrangement that you feel have made a difference in how positive the atmosphere is? How do plants and lighting affect your mood? Freely jot down some of your answers:

  1. B) Now, consider your work environment and ask yourself the same questions. How have you contributed to a more positive culture at the office?

How have your co-workers done the same? Can you think of ill-fated attempts to instill positivity? What went wrong? Where do you see a need or opportunity to make things lighter or more upbeat? Freely write your answers:

2.5 An Experiential Exercise for Week 2

Emotions are felt in the moment. As psychological experiences, a good way to gain a deeper understanding of emotions is to experience them! Use the exercises below to trigger your emotions and gain all new insight!

Pay attention this week to the social aspects of emotion. When you are in group situations, try to be aware of if the group is all united in their feeling or if there are multiple feelings. How do you know? What do cues such as facial expression and posture tell you? Pay attention to when and how humor, positivity, compliments, pride, and joy are used socially. How do you use them in a group situation? How do other people use them if they use them in a way different from yours?