Positive Psychology Part 4 – Love is

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When I was a little girl I was very fond of a bubble-gum called “Love is”. Every package contained a drawing and an example of an act associated with love- for instance “ love is squeezing lemon in his tea”. I found the whole package very appealing, however at that point couldn`t quite grasp how this exactly linked to love. Later I found out that this understanding is something that evolves in a course of a lifetime. Let`s have another look at it today.

So, following the introduction to positive emotions and the benefits that experiencing them bring, let’s zoom into one of the most important ones – Love.

So what is love? Some common perceptions of love are that it is exclusive; without finding it you are incomplete; it is a sort of an achievement; it involves serious commitment… Do these resonate with you? Our existing views of love inarguably serve us well, but it is such a profound emotion that it deserves to also be looked through a different lens.

Let’s start with what is NOT love. Love is not sexual desire, passion, romance, commitment, exclusivity or even something that necessarily lasts for a lifetime.

And what does science  say about love?  First, Love is a positive emotion that we mostly co-experience in the company of others. It is about investing in the well-being of another person without anything at stake. It is also a feeling that “you get me” and “I get you”. Looking at it scientifically, it can be defined as “interpersonally situated experience marked by momentary increases in shared positive emotions, behavioral syncronomity and mutual care.” The subsequent “products” of love are improved rapport with the person, forming social bonds and commitment.

If we honestly think about it we are not “chronically” invested in the well-being of others, and we can`t say that we “love” the whole time if we strictly follow the definitions above. What does this mean? That’s where emotional science kicks in.

According to emotional science and more specifically positive psychology love blossoms every time when two people connect over a shared positive emotion.  This is closely linked to the concept of “Positivity resonance” which effectively is a “co-experience” of positive emotions; a micro moment of connection when a positive emotion unfolds for both of you, between and amongst you at the same time (more about the background of positivity resonance can be found here- link).

Similar to its siblings from the positive emotion family, love also has a “broaden and build component”(for those of you who need a recap of “broaden and build- you can find it here (paste link)-it has a momentary effect based on which we build and expand.

Research has shown that practicing a certain type of meditation called Lovingkindness meditation (an ancient Buddhist meditation which practice involves generation of gentle, caring and warm feelings towards oneself and others) results in improved vagal tone (variation of heart rate when we breathe in and out) which predicts better immune function, cardiovascular health, glucose regulation and last but not least – social skills!

Now that we cover the positivity psychology view of love let`s think about the practical insights:

1) The experience of love is dynamic and not static and it is in our hands to maintain it!

2) Our hearts literally become more responsive to our breath as we experience loving feeling towards others which has huge benefits for not only our health but also our social skills and creativity.

3) Pay more attention to the little positive emotions that you experience and that you usually tend to trivialize- they can enhance not only improve the quality of your relationships, but also your well-being.

4) Never forget that love is not a relationship status – it is a verb, and an action that requires attention. Your attention.

I`ll end here with a beautiful quote by  Ursula Le Guin which was also mentioned in the course:

” Love doesn`t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; re-made all the time, made new”

 

 

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Positive Psychology Part 3: The delicate art of pursuing happiness

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Knowing how to pursue happiness effectively is essential for living a fulfilled life (you can find more about this here). At the same time finding sustainable ways to be happy could be quite a challenge, as often in our efforts we try to fully eliminate negativity which is not a feasible strategy (as negativity is “embedded” in ourselves as a natural way of protection against danger). Or some other times we tend to engage in non-meaningful activities to keep ourselves cheered up or distracted from the reality, as we are afraid it will bring us more negativity- like watching the next episode of that addictive series and then the next one and the next one..

The “optimal” positive ratio is 3 to 1-this is the ratio under which the people are found to be “flourishing” (you can read more about the ratio and how to calculate it here). The higher the ratio, the greater growth and resilience people show.

When we start calculating and measuring our positivity rations most of us will find them to be lower than what we think – often this is because negative experiences tend to be “louder” and more -prominent than positive ones which are more subtle- therefore the negative ones are more easily remembered and higher weighted. For example- which situation would stick more- a friend who said something nice and cheered you up, or the same friend making a nasty comment that made you feel miserable?

One great aspect of the positivity ratio calculation is that by doing it we`ll start thinking about all those small positive emotions that we tend to overlook and in many cases we`ll realize that we are experiencing much more positivity that we thought. By doing this we`ll learn to discover all the good things around us and to develop an opened readiness to capitalize on them and increase the number of our positive emotions. Research shows don`t really need huge positive events to be happy- mild positive experiences that occur in a sustainable way is what matters to keep our positivity rations high. For instance, in the course of calculating your positivity ratio you might discover that small things such as going for walks uplift you, but you never thought of it. As a next step, you can incorporate it in your daily routine, or perhaps go for a walk when you need a positive influx.

As mentioned earlier- doing a one day diagnostics is not the best strategy- to get some meaningful insights try to do it for at least a week and then calculate the average.

And once again- trying to fully eliminate negativity is not a feasible strategy- apart from being genetically impossible, research shows that exclusively positive people tend to lose their creativity and that successful entrepreneurs need a “pain point” that triggers them to take decisive action. Flourishing also requires some negativity- that is why the optimal positivity ratio is 3 to 1 and not 3 to 0. Being able to honestly recognize negativity therefore allows us to be grounded in reality and to be more creative.

So go ahead- start calculating your positivity ratio and let us know how you experienced this by leaving a comment below 😉

 

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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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Positive Psychology

 

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A few weeks ago I decided to invest in expanding my knowledge in an area that is super dear and interesting to me- Positive Psychology, by taking a six module online course. One of the best ways to consolidate knowledge is to share it and it would also make me super happy to know that I`ve had even the smallest positive influence in your lives, so here we go- in the next weeks I will be sharing interesting insights from the course. It will be really great if you could also share your views on the topic, so we can have a discussion around this fascinating and so relevant topic! Each of the posts will be accompanied by pictures that I took that evoke happiness and in me which hopefully will light up a little happy spark in you as well.

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