According to a new study, stopping to appreciate even the smallest positive moments in one's life builds emotional strength, not to mention wards off stress and depression. The findings were reported in the June 2009 issue of the journal Emotion.

The research team, led by Michael Cohn of the University of California, San Francisco, asked 86 participants to record their emotions throughout the day for a period of one month. By doing this, the researchers did not have to rely on the participants' memories of their emotions, but instead got a real−time catalogue of these experiences and feelings. Study author Barbara Fredrickson of UNC, Chapel Hill says that "those daily reports helped us gather more accurate recollections of feelings and allowed us to capture emotional ups and downs."

Interestingly, negative emotions did not seem to inhibit the benefits of experiencing positive emotions.

The researchers found that the more participants reported experiencing positive emotions the more resilient and satisfied with their lives they tended to be. Interestingly, negative emotions did not seem to inhibit the benefits of experiencing positive emotions. Positive emotions were also linked to an increase in resilience between the beginning and the end of the study, but no such connection was found between satisfaction with life and resilience. The authors suggest that this may be because "in−the−moment positive emotions" − rather than feelings about general life satisfaction − "form the link between happiness and desirable life outcomes."

Fredrickson says that the "study shows that if happiness is something you want out of life, then focusing daily on the small moments and cultivating positive emotions is the way to go. Those small moments let positive emotions blossom, and that helps you become more open. That openness then helps us build resources that can help us rebound better from adversity and stress, ward off depression and continue to grow."

How positive does one have to be to experience the benefits? Fredrickson says that "[p]articipants with average and stable levels of positive emotions still showed growth in resilience even when their days included negative emotions." Even savoring "micro−moments" can do the trick, she adds.

Fredrickson also adds that "[a] lot of times we get so wrapped up in thinking about the future and the past that we are blind to the goodness we are steeped in already, whether it's the beauty outside the window or the kind things that people are doing for you. The better approach is to be open and flexible, to be appreciative of whatever good you do find in your daily circumstances, rather than focusing on bigger questions."