Positive Psychology Part 2: The mindscapes and outcomes of positivity

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In the previous post from this series we found out that negative emotions are important for us to flourish and positive ones are by nature subtle and fleeting. The trick is not to deny these facts and try to eliminate negativity – this is genetically inherent in our nature, but to recognize the transcendence of the positive emotions and to try to increase their quantity and thus make sure negative emotions are balanced with positive ones.

Research shows that below a certain ratio of negative emotions people start feeling burdened and lifeless and become rigid, predictable and lose their creativity.

And in case you are you already wondering what this ratio is- well, here it is – it is one to three. This 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.

Please note that 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.

Over the last decades researchers have found stunning correlations between expressing positive emotions and living longer. Positive emotions help us broaden our mindset and outlook and build our resources – this is the so called “broaden and build” effect.

And lastly, let`s have look at the concept of  “happiness”, which has turned into a much of a cliché these days- research has shown that 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 will eventually lead to higher satisfaction with life. Rather than overthinking and trying to design a “happiness strategy” we should live in the moment and try to get the best out of it in terms of positive emotions. This will naturally result in greater meaning and purpose in life and an interesting fact- less pains, headaches and other negative symptoms as well as improved sleep.

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 your emotions throughout the day will help you become more mindful of your sources of positive and negative emotions, compare reality of where you want to be and find ways to increase positive ones.

For more suggestions on how to increase the positive emotions that you experience – have a look at the previous post from this series – http://funandinterestinglife.com/positive-psychology-part-1-the-tiny-engines-of-happiness/.

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Positive Psychology Part 1: The Tiny Engines of Happiness

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So let`s dive into the depths of positive psychology by learning the basics.

Have you thought about the positive emotions in your life? Can you maybe name a few? When I was it struck me that it is super 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

Now that we know them let`s find out what makes them special.  Positive emotions are a lot more subtle than their negative siblings that often “scream” at you such as sadness, anger, misery. This has developed evolutionary, as we need our negative emotions in order to survive- without it we won`t know what’s dangerous and what is not.  They 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 these engines can “drive” us to be positive.

Another important characteristic of positive emotions is their ability to help us recover from negative experiences a lot quicker compared to a situation when we are in a neutral state.

The 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 do this in practice?  There are two ways the first one of which is to be mindful and 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! 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.

And here are a few ideas on how to practice this with one of the most interesting positive emotions – gratitude. Every day write down three things which happened during the day and which you are grateful for; put one positive thing that happened in a jar every day. Open those at the end of the month- have a monthly “happy hour” 😉

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