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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May 2 – Our inner world

Another day and another favorite quite- this time by Amma, the beautiful hugging saint. Knowing our inner world is something that we don’t learn in school, but is as important as acquiring external knowledge. Thia is a reminder to keep that in mind 🙂

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Jan 9- Stay connected

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Today a very dear friend of mine reminded me of an important truth- that distance doesn’t matter when the roots of the relationship are strong enough. Sometimes keeping the roots strong happens more naturally than other times. It is up to us to stay connected to our dear ones so our friendships grow strong and sustain the challenges of distance and time zones!

 

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Jan 3: Live one minute of our life

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Today I woke up in a relaxed post-holiday mode. I found time to meditate, made a cup of nice tea and started slowly sipping it. But then the never-ending To Do list in my mind turned on like a loud alarm- “I have to finalize and send out those slides”,”After that I have to make that call”, “And afterwards need to figure out the insurance”… It suddenly stopped feeling relaxing at all.

One of my favorite books came to a rescue. It is a powerful little book called the “Miracle of Mindfulness” written by the Buddhist monk Thich Nath . The books take you into the basics of the perspective and practice of Mindfulness and is also one of my favorite books on a spiritual guidance.

I can`t say enough how much I recommend reading this book. And here is the part that came on the rescue to help me deal  with the “To Do alarm”

“In the United States, I have a close friend named Jim Forest. Last winter, Jim came to visit. I usually wash the dishes after we’ve finished the evening meal, before sitting down and drinking tea with everyone else. One night, Jim asked if he might do the dishes. I said, “Go ahead, but if you wash the dishes you must know the way to wash them.” Jim replied, “Come on, you think I don’t know how to wash the dishes?” I answered, “There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.” Jim was delighted and said, “I choose the second way-to wash the dishes to wash the dishes.” From then on, Jim knew how to wash the dishes. If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the disheto wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future -and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”

 And this is it. Just wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes. As simple as it sounds. Simple, yet powerful. Give it a try. And then just drink your tea to drink your tea. And then work to work. And then- spend time with your loved ones and be with them in your mind. One step at a time. With your full attention.

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Three stories by Steve Jobs

One of the most inspirational speaches of all times is the commencement speech of Steve Jobs in Stanford university in 2005. 

In a simple yet inspiring way he shares three stories from his life that teach us how importand it is to follow your heart and  be true to yourself.  

Every time I watch him I feel happy to be alive and energized to be myself and take action to do the things that I love. I am confident that it will have the same effect on you- enjoy!

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Life unfolds in divine order


Easter is one of the biggest and most magical Christian holidays which I always associate with traditions, rituals and spending time with your closest people.

It’s Ortodox Easter today, so as I every year I color eggs and prepare a special Easter bread that I’m going to share with my friends. For me such holidays are really about sharing and caring, and showing appreciation to the people who are there for you.


Something even bigger that Easter represents to me is to have faith that life unfolds in divine order and we are being taken care of.  


A beautiful story that depicts this and that I want to share with you today is called ” Footsteps in the sand”: 

One night I dreamed a dream.

As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.

Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.

For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,

One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.

I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,

especially at the very lowest and saddest times,

there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it. 
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,

You’d walk with me all the way.

But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,

there was only one set of footprints.

I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.

When you saw only one set of footprints,

It was then that I carried you.”
Happy Easter!

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As I Began to Love Myself…

This beautiful manifesto to knowing and loving yourself was written by Charley Chaplin on his 70th birthday.

For me this is one of the most thought provoking and inspiring advice that I’ve read and I am very excited to share it with you one day before the blog and myself have their birthdays.

I hope that reading it will inspire you to go on a self-discovery trip and test whether his findings are valid for you. Because life is not only about getting inspired by others, but most importantly-about discovering your own truth and staying authentic.  And this is what this blog is about.

As I Began to Love Myself
As I began to love myself I found that anguish and emotional suffering are only warning signs that I was living against my own truth.
Today, I know, this is “AUTHENTICITY”.

As I began to love myself I understood how much it can offend somebody as I try to force my desires on this person,even though I knew the time was not right and the person was not ready for it,and even though this person was me.
I call it “RESPECT”.

As I began to love myself I stopped craving for a different life,and I could see that everything that surrounded me was inviting me to grow.
Today I call it “MATURITY”.

As I began to love myself I understood that at any circumstance,I am in the right place at the right time,and everything happens at the exactly right moment.
So I could be calm. Today I call it “SELF-CONFIDENCE”.

As I began to love myself I quit stealing my own time,and I stopped designing huge projects for the future.Today, I only do what brings me joy and happiness, things I love to do and that make my heart cheer, and I do them in my own way and in my own rhythm.
Today I call it “SIMPLICITY”.

As I began to love myself I freed myself of anything that is no good for my health—food, people, things, situations, and everything the drew me down and away from myself.At first I called this attitude a healthy egoism.
Today I know it is “LOVE OF ONESELF”.

As I began to love myself I quit trying to always be right, and ever since I was wrong less of the time.
Today I discovered that is “MODESTY”.

As I began to love myself I refused to go on living in the past and worry about the future.Now, I only live for the moment, where EVERYTHING is happening.
Today I live each day, day by day, and I call it “FULFILLMENT”.

As I began to love myself I recognized that my mind can disturb me and it can make me sick. But as I connected it to my heart, my mind became a valuable ally.
Today I call this connection “WISDOM OF THE HEART”.

We no longer need to fear arguments, confrontations or any kind of problems with ourselves or others. Even stars collide, and out of their crashing new worlds are born.

Today I know THAT IS “LIFE”!

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Baba Marta

One of the beautiful Bulgarian traditions is the celebration of 1st of March as the day when the winter is coming to an end.

According to the legend, on that day grandmother March (‘Baba Marta’ in Bulgarian) scolds her naughty grandchildren -January and February and commands them to put an end to the harsh winter times.

On that day, we wear and also gift each a thread in red and white – Martenitsa, with the wish to be healthy and happy. The thread is worn until we see a stork ( symbolizing the upcoming spring) and is then put on a blossomed tree so it grows healthy and fruitful.

This year baba Marta finds me in India where the hot and humid weather has nothing to do with the typical cold and often snowy conditions that I am used to experiencing back home in Europe.
Nevertheless the traditions remain the same independently of the location. Just like in all the previous years I wear my Martenitsa and give Martenitsas to people around me. And the same memory visits me in such a vivid way that it feels like it was yesterday- my grandmother gives me a Martenitsa, a bunch of amazing smelling flowers that grow in Bulgaria in March and also a hand-made card, made by a friend of hers containing an inspirational wish.

My grandmother is no longer here to give me these gifts, but I make my own cards now and I give them to others so they can feel the same way I felt when receiving them:) And I am going to keep doing it every year. Traditions will always be followed.

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Picture Perfect- 10 tips from me

Photography has been a part of my life for three years and my fascination with it grows every day. For me it has a double purpose – in a purely factual way it allows us to learn more about the world around us; but it turns into a pure art by serving as a thought-provoking reflection of the personal journey of the photographer. As if somebody took your hand and walked you through the stage on which their images evolved. It reaches its ultimate goal when it turns into storytelling – when a picture speaks more than all the words that we could use. For me it has grown from merely a hobby to something that excites and inspires me and provokes my curiosity; something that I am trying to get better at and want to know more about. Photography is embedded deeply in this blog and it goes hand by hand with the words that I use to tell the stories that I tell.

A friend of mine recently asked me to share my experience with learning how to take better pictures and at the same time make the whole process more enjoyable and fun.

So here are my ten tips for all the fellow photographers:

Know your camera! Whether you shoot with a DLSR, System Camera or your phone it is absolutely essential to have control over it. Most picture-perfect moments occur spontaneously and you have only few seconds to act. And there is nothing as annoying as realizing post-factum that your perfect picture is actually a blurry/ over/ under-exposed mess. So read up your manuals and know the settings of your camera. I am shooting with Sony Nex 6 (the predecessor of the Alpha 6000) and can share the a very useful book explaining the camera with those of you have the same camera.

Get the basics right! There are certain elements of the photography, such as shutter speed, aperture, focusing and exposure, that you need to have at least awareness about in case you want to develop your photography skills. There are many ways to get you started. I did an online photography course (www.iphotographycourse.com) which I was very happy with. I have also subscribed for the newsletters of a several photography blogs that provide photography tips, my favourite of which is the blog of David Peterson.

Composition is key! After you get to know more about your camera you will soon discover by experience that composition plays a critical role. Knowing what the elements of an image are, how they relate to each other and how this impacts the overall mood of the image will help you create pictures that truly impact the viewer. My favorite book on composition that I can highly recommend is “The Photographer`s Eye” by Michael Freeman.

Discover where your interests lie! By experimenting see what kind of topics you are most interested in – landscapes, architecture, portraits, etc. This way you will also know what kind of resources/ tips/ equipment to look for. During my first trip to India I discovered that I really love taking portrait pictures, but I also enjoy taking shooting landscapes (especially sunsets) and close-ups of flowers and animals.

• Bring your camera with you, experiment and enjoy the process! Every time when I go somewhere without my camera I deeply regret it, so I try to take it along as often as possible. I have also discovered that it takes me about half an hour to “warm up” by taking random pictures and playing with the settings until I shoot my “picture of the day”. Therefore I would highly encourage you to be playful and enjoy the process without being too outcome oriented – the results will come naturally.

• Read photography books/ magazines of your interest! One of my best friends gave me a book for my birthday that I am reviewing every other day and I learn so much from. It is called… Magazines/ photography websites, on the other hand, are a great way to keep yourself up to date with upcoming competitions, new trends, interesting tips and also a great way to keep yourself away from time-wasting sources, such as Facebook 😉

• Join a photography community where you can share your pictures and get inspired from others! It is a great way to filter your best images, think about what kind of text you want to add to your picture as well as to get feedback from fellow photographers and get inspired from their work. I am a member of an online picture sharing platform called ViewBug and what I enjoy mostly about it is the opportunity to review the work of professional photographers.

• Find user-friendly photo-editing software which can help you to perfect your pictures! I usually modify my pictures from my phone and use an app called “Snapseed”. What I really like about it is the speed with which I can get things done (I use the wireless network of my camera to transfer the pictures to my phone/iPad and then I directly edit them) and also the super user-friendly process (for some sort of reason I find all the buttons/ menus/ options in Photoshop and Lightroom a massive turn off).

Competition gives you a healthy kick! Even though I know I am far away from being a professional, taking part in competitions gives me a drive and also motivates me to take the best picture. Additionally, involving you in communities where people share pictures and vote for each other can be a good way to stimulate yourself to get better (try Viewbug that I talked about above).

• Think about ways to utilize your pictures! Putting your pictures to use brings them to life and allows them to turn into art. I mainly use the pictures for my blog, but there are many other ways such as making photobooks, postcards, collages or my favorite – printing them in big size and decorating your house, but also gifting them to friends. Printing a picture of yours in big size and framing it beautifully can be a beautiful present and thinking which pictures would fit the personality/ interior of the house of your friend makes the process even more enjoyable and rewarding. Furthermore, I always believed that gifting something that came from your heart and making the time to think about it and work it out is a lot more valuable than simply purchasing a gift.

Hopefully these tips would help you not only to take better pictures, but also to enjoy the process and have fun with it 😉

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