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:
|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” 😉