The Science and Art of Positive Psychology- Part Two

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In the first session of these series we found out that:

  • Negative emotions are genetically embedded as part of our survival instincts and mechanisms.
  • Positive emotions are by nature subtle and fleeting; however they are important for us to develop and flourish.

It is important to recognize these facts and rather than trying to eliminate negativity working on accepting it, as well as recognizing the power of positive emotions despite their transcendence. The winning strategy will then be to increase their quantity so they can eventually outnumber their negative siblings.

Research shows that below a certain ratio of positive to negative emotions people start feeling burdened and lifeless, become rigid, predictable and lose their creativity. The ratio is one to three, which means that for every negative emotion that we experience we need three positive ones to balance it off.  You can calculate your positivity ratio at http://www.positivityratio.com./single.php.

Keeping our positivity rations high has numerous benefits:

  • It is good for our health- over the last decades researchers have found stunning correlations between expressing positive emotions and living longer.
  • Positive emotions can increase our curiosity, playfulness and openness to others, which would help us broaden our mindset and outlook and build our resources – this is the so called “broaden and build” effect.
  • Positive emotions can help us improve our satisfaction with life. Positive psychology tells us that in order to improve our happiness levels, we should be focusing on how we feel day-to-day and not on how to become happy with life in general. When we focus on day to day feelings we work on building our resources, growing and improving ourselves which eventually leads to higher satisfaction with life. Rather than overthinking and trying to design a “happiness strategy” we should try to live in the moment and to get the best out of it in terms of positive emotions. This will naturally result in greater meaning and purpose in life.

So go ahead- measure your positivity ratio and keep in mind that three to one is just the tipping point and it is best if your balance well above this. Tracking our emotions throughout the day is also an effective way to become more mindful of our sources of positive and negative emotions, compare reality to where we want to be and think about ways to increase our positive experiences.

Something to keep in mind is that in order to get a good idea of your positivity ratio over time this exercise needs to be done for a longer period of time rather than once off. When I started I scored myself every day in the course of a week to get a good understanding of how the ratio differed from day to day and form a “baseline” for myself. From then onwards, I`ve been doing it a few times a week, comparing against the baseline and identifying ways to improve it.

For more suggestions on how to increase the positive emotions that you experience and boost your positivity ratios – have a look at the first session of the series.

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The Science and Art of Positive Psychology- Part One

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The concept of positive psychology is something extremely close to my heart. It started after I had my first glimpses of  mindfulness and meditation when I got to know more about Neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to change based on our conscious and unconscious thoughts, behaviors and the environment. Neuroplasticity tells us that we can consciously train our brains similarly to how we train our bodies. Mindfulness, meditation and positive psychology are some of the “tools” to do this training.

I was already practicing and studying the first two and keen to know more. The opportunity to find out more about Positive Psychology came through a six module online course in Coursera that has been developed and thought by Dr. Barbara Frederickson.

One of the best ways to consolidate knowledge is to share it and the opportunity to have even the smallest positive influence on your lives would bring me immense joy, so I will be sharing interesting insights and my reflections from the different modules of the course.

Let`s start with the basics. Have you thought about the positive emotions in your life? Can you maybe name a few? When I tried to come up with a list it struck me that it is very difficult to come up with more examples beyond joy and happiness.

So here there are, a list of the ten main positive emotions and their characteristics:

Emotion Appraisal Tendency Outcome
Joy Safe, familiar, progress Play, learn new things Acquire skills
Gratitude Receive altruistic gift Give creatively Nurture bonds/skills for loving
Interest Safe, but also novel and mysterious environment Explore, be inventive Energy, gain knowledge
Serenity Safe, certain, low effort Savor and integrate Modify self
Hope Negative situations where you yearn for the better Be inventive Increased resilience
Pride Socially valued achievement Dreaming Further achievement
Amusement Non serious social incongruity Share laughter Build friendship
Inspiration Witness human excellence Aspire to excellence Gain skills and morality
Awe Overwhelmed by greatness Accommodate the new Self as part of a larger whole
Love Positive emotion in connection with somebody Play, explore, dream Build trust, bonds, communication

Something important to realize is that positive emotions are much more powerful than what we think. They do not only improve the overall quality of our lives, but enable us to be curious, creative, connected, to develop ourselves and eventually reach our fullest potential. And very importantly- they can be consciously evoked. 

Some of the very interesting insights that are got from the course are:

  • Positive emotions are far more subtle than their negative siblings (such as sadness, anger, misery) that often “scream” at you. This has developed evolutionary, as we need our negative emotions in order to survive- without them we won`t know what’s dangerous and what is not. 
  • Positive emotions are also more fleeting than the negative ones and have a tendency to quickly come and go, which might pose challenges in recognizing them ad staying with them.
  • Despite the fact that they seem less powerful than negative emotions, positive emotions have an important quality called dynamic cyclic capability- where our current emotions determine the ones that follow. In that context the little engines of positivity are the spirals between emotions where one good emotion leads to another one which leads to yet another one and we are eventually put into a sort of “positivity loop”.
  • Positive emotions have the ability to help us recover from negative experiences a lot quicker compared to a situation when we are in a neutral state. The important practical implication of this is that even when we are taken over by negativity we can consciously try to evoke positive emotions and break the negative pattern!

And how can we actually evoke positive emotions?  The course gives us two ideas how to get there:

  • Be mindful and develop the ability to recognize the positive emotions when they occur. When you start doing that you will soon realize that you often take for granted good things that happen to you and you are like the fish who doesn’t see the water; for instance let`s take the simplest example – without air we wouldn`t be able to live no more than a minute or two, but how often do we actually acknowledge this? And there are so many more examples..
  • Of course there are also times when things just go out of hand and it is just so difficult to see the light. A second way to practice positivity is to remember things that make/made us feel grateful, peaceful, loved, inspired, etc. Ideas how to do this are:
  • Every day write down three things which happened during the day and which you are grateful for,
  • Write down one positive thing that happened to you and put the paper in a jar every day. You could open those at the end of the month- have a monthly “happy hour” 😉

More about the Positive Psychology course and Dr. Barbara Fredericson can be found here and here.

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The Elephant Bath

Elephants are one of the biggest but also the most beautiful and intelligent animals. There is a saying depicting a clumsy person – “like an elephant in a shop full of glass”, but I completely disagree with the comparison. There is a certain grace and elegance that they radiate which is even more apparent when they are in the water. I believe the pictures below depict this very well.

Elephants are also one of the most auspicious animals in India and especially Kerala which is also playing an essential part of the Indian culture and mythology. Experiencing an encounter with them is an absolute must for every visitor of Kerala.

Seeing elephants take a bath was one of the most interesting experiences in my life. The sight of them splashing their ears in the water , using their trunks as showers and submerging like cute submarines with only their trunk outside is something that will stay with me for a very long time.

There are a few elephant centers in Kerala; the one that I visited is Kodanad elephant training center which is aproximately 40 km from Cochin.

More information about the center at: www.keralatourism.org/destination/kodanad-ernakulam/123/

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September 3rd – Stop for a moment

 There are days meant for contemplation. With no to-do lists, schedules and “what next”s. Days to just live and be.

My companion for the day is a beautiful book called “Deviation” written by the talanted bulgarian author Blaga Dimitrova. I’ve tried to translate a passage that perfectly describes my state for today- a state that I wish all of us could store inside ourself and return to in all those moments when the chasing mind kicks in. 

“Wait!!! Where are you rushing to? Is someone chasing you? Or are you chasing someone or something? Is the world going to end if you don’t catch what you are chasing? And while you are so busy chasing, aren’t you missing something else, something much more important?

                                 …

Stop for a moment! Look at this glorious day! Taste it with your lips, breath, the pores of your skin! The day is soaked in sun like a big, amber grape and slowly riping, and getting heavy from the heat. A long long summer day. An eternity caught between the morning and the evening. The big day is small only for you who are rushing and chasing. “

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August 10- A different type of celebration that celebrates difference

Amsterdam Gay Pride

 

Amsterdam`s Gay Pride is an event to remember. Amongst all the colors, sights and provocative playfulness you feel like you are thrown into a parallel universe- one of freedom and never-ending celebration.

The essence of the Gay Pride goes much beyond the wild celebration, sexual provocation and display of homosexual affection. It is a festivity that celebrates life and the different journeys that we pursue in our lifetimes. An invitation to be non-judgmental, open-minded and to accept others and also ourselves the way we are. Because we are all different on the outside, yet very similar in our core – that is the beauty of life 

Enjoy the gallery and have a look here for more pictures from previous years and practical tips on how make the best out of the day.

 

 

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July 29th – Seize the moment


Life always surprises us the moments when we least expect it. Today wasn’t my best day and the weather definitely did not work in my favor, but still, I decided to go for a walk. Then I came across this beautiful newlywed couple that was doing a photoshoot the creativity of which supercharged my day! They were radiating so much happiness and joy that a piece of it came to me as well 😀 I even got asked to take a picture of them and their photographers! And just like that I became a small happy part of their wedding day 🙂 

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July 9- About Safety

 

A few days ago, I was attacked by a stranger on the street – one of those experiences that are somehow too bizarre to be true. Luckily the whole story had a fortunate outcome – a helpful witness, polite policemen, very caring medical staff and most importantly- a perpetrator who admitted what he did (!). And, last but not least- I am not seriously injured :).

In the aftermath- the man who hit me is currently under arrest and the outcome of the case will soon be known. My assumption is that he had a mental illness.

As weird as this story is, it is not what matters most to me. What does, is the learning behind it which is linked to safety.

This incident made me think about all those parts of the world where random violence and aggression are a way of life and the word “safety” resembles very vaguely its meaning as we know it. And I felt so grateful to be able live in a safe community where such incidents are considered as unusual and rare- something that we usually take almost for granted. And at the same time, I could feel so much for all those who don`t have that privilege and who spend their lives in horror and fear.

It also made me think about people with mental illness, people who are not even feeling safe in their own bodies because of their fragile mental state, who are in so much pain and delusion that they even hurt others. I don`t think these people deserve any anger, but only compassion.

I don`t feel any anger towards the person who attacked me- I hope he is getting the help that he needs and I am very grateful for the important lesson that I learned on that day- to appreciate our safety and to reach out and try to be of help to others who are not safe.

As a start, I am sharing my story. You stay safe and spread the word!

P.S: The picture above is a part of the amazing work “The caged bird`s song” by Chris Ofili which is currently on display in the London National Gallery.

 

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July 3 – Row Row Row Your Boat

Most of us must have heard this joyful little tune:

“Row, row, row your boat,

Gently down the stream

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily

Life is but a dream”

 The inspirational speaker PrinceEa gives a refreshing and very profound  interpretation of it in the video below which I think is a perfect way to greet the new week.

Our boat is our body and the stream is our life. It is only us who can navigate our  boat and nobody can do it for us. Rowing down the stream (not against it) is how we should live our lives- and we should aim to do it with joy, carelessly  and merrily as in the end – life is an illusion 🙂 So row your boats with joy and go with the flow!

 

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June 29 – Our four wives

Today’s inspiration is a beautiful old Tibetan story that “found” me recently:

Long, long ago when the world was young and the tiger walked with the deer, there was a rich king who had four wives. The king loved his fourth wife the most and adorned her with riches. He also loved his third wife and was always showing her off to neighbouring kingdoms. However, he always feared that she would leave him. His second wife was kind and considerate and his trusted confidante and advisor in difficult times. Wife number one was devoted and loyal and although she loved him deeply, he was not as interested and tended to ignore her.

One day, the king fell ill and the truth dawned that his life was soon to end. He thought of the luxurious life he had led and feared being alone when he died.

He asked his fourth wife, “I have loved you the most, endowed you with the finest clothing, showered gifts upon you and taken great care over you. Now that I’m dying, will you follow me and keep me company?” “No way!” she replied and walked away without another word.

The sad king then asked the third wife, “I have loved you all my life. Now that I’m dying, will you follow me and keep me company? ” “No!” she replied. “Life is too good! When you die, I’m going to remarry!”

He then asked the second wife, “I have always turned to you for help and you’ve always been there for me. When I die, will you follow me and keep me company?” “I’m sorry, I can’t help you out this time!” she replied. “At the very most, I can help with your funeral.”

Then a voice called out to the king in his sadness: “I’ll leave with you and follow you no matter where you go.” The king looked up and there was his first wife. She was so skinny and undernourished. Greatly grieved, the king said, “I should have taken much better care of you when I had the chance!”

Perhaps it is easier to graps the moral of the story if the main character is a king. But in its essence it relates to all of us. Because we all have these four wives.

Our fourth wife is our body. No matter how much time and effort we lavish in making it look good, it’ll leave us when we die. 

Our third wife is our possessions, status and wealth. When we die we won’t take anything with us. 

Our second wife is our family and friends. No matter how much they have supported and loved us, the furthest they can stay by us is up to the moment of our death.

Our first wife is our soul, often neglected in pursuit of wealth, power and pleasures of the ego. However, our soul is the only thing that will follow us wherever we go.

Nourish your body and keep it healthy so you can live life to its fullest. But don’t forget that it is no more than a vessel that we will leave one day.  Enjoy your possessions, the pleasure and the comfort they provide, but don’t get attached to them as they won’t be with you forever. Cherish your friends and family, but also learn to let go as this is the cycle of life. What will always stay and needs most care and nourishment is your soul- the source of your vital energy and your most faithful “wife”. 🙂

Special thanks to The Unbounded Spirit in whose page I found the English text of the story and also many other great inspirations.

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June 25- Feel good. Be good. Do good.

 

It has surely happened to all of us to have been mistreated – do you remember the rude person who pushed you while passing by, the cranky cashier who snarled at you while you were looking for your change or the colleague who rolled their eyes when you were telling a story. Everyone has a few (or maybe many) examples of these situations when we felt wronged and inevitably developed one or another negative emotion towards the person who did it. In those occasions we tend to label these people as “assholes”, “morons” and whatever other names come to our minds as means to separate them- “the bad ones” from us- “the good ones”.

But if we turn the mirror around and look at ourselves we`ll be able to also pinpoint the times when we were “the assholes”. The times when we judged a friend, screamed at our partner or were simply rude with a perfect stranger who pushed us by accident. Are we then “the bad ones”?

Today my during my class in  Svaha Yoga the teacher shared a brilliant insight that is linked to this:

“Feel good. Be good. Do good”

A common underlying factor of all situations when we didn`t behave at our best is the that we didn`t feel good- we were often tired, overwhelmed or stressed out (or sometimes just hungry 🙂 ). Can you think of an example when you acted poorly, but were feeling great? No, right? In the same way, can we assume that others who mistreated us could also have been overtaken by negative emotions and were suffering in one way or another?

This leads us to two pieces of food for thought closely linked to compassion. The first one is to try to overcome the tendency to feel victimized when being wronged and rather than reciprocating the aggression and negativity to see the “bad ones” as the ones who are suffering. To have compassion for others.

The second one is to take care of ourselves. Give ourselves the time to rest when we need it, engage in those activities that make us feel good, work on staying positive and very importantly – have compassion towards ourselves. Some very thoughtful insights on the difficult art of self-compassion can be found in this great Brainpickings article where the author also shares a very helpful exercise of daily self-compassion by The School of Life:

How about starting this new practice next week?. And making steps towards feeling, being and doing good? Because when we want to make a positive change the best place to start is within 🙂

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