Are you feeling happy or sad? Is it the kind of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” song day or simply a content day?
When I’m asked, “How’s your day?” I tend to think about how I’m feeling at the moment and answer based on that emotion. If I had a few extra moments to think about my day, I’m sure my answer would reflect a cornucopia of emotions. That’s not really what others want to hear. They’re not looking for your moment-by-moment playback of the ups and downs in your day! Instead, the polite answer is what our mind creates as it swiftly weighs the positives and negatives of the day, and gives an overall thumbs up or thumbs down.
Do you think that your mind is accurate about the general emotional state of your day?
I was quite surprised when I took a Positivity Self Test several evenings in a row, as part of a course that I was taking on positive emotions. When I was honest with myself, it revealed that my day was not what I thought it had been.
The self test was developed by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a researcher, author, and professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The test provides a “snapshot of how your emotions of the past day combine to create your positivity ratio.” Take the test for yourself and see how you do.
Dr. Fredrickson has written several books based on her 20+ years of research into positive psychology. Her books are what I call people-friendly (for the lay person) and talk about the importance of experiencing positive emotions as often as possible, and how to create more positive emotions in one’s life so that one can flourish. Positivity is one of her books, while the other is called Love 2.o.
Health and Emotions
Why pay attention to your emotions? One important reason is that your emotions affect your psychological and physical health. Yes, there is plenty of research that shows the link between well-being (positive emotional feelings) and physical health. The latest research goes further to say that our social connectedness with others is the important factor in creating better health. In particular, studies have been conducted measuring our ‘vagal tone’ and how that changes when exposed to emotions. The vagus nerve connects our heart muscle to our brain and regulates our heart rate. Positive social interactions influence our vagal tone, and thereby our heart rate, to create better health.
Other authorities on health have also researched and written about the healing power of the mind. Influenced by positive emotions, through the body-mind connection, we have powerful tools for enhancing our health. Read more about this in the book by Lissa Rankin, MD, Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself.
Strategies for Increasing Reaping Benefits
There are several strategies that Dr. Fredrickson and her colleagues propose for increasing positive emotions and social connection to others. All of them aim to build awareness of positive emotions, which broadens your thinking about possibilities and actions. In other words, when you’re feeling good, the glass is half full rather than half empty. You think of more possibilities to work with.
Emotions have a spiraling effect, so you can choose to spiral upwards with positive ones or downwards with negative ones. As one becomes more adept at experiencing positive emotions, one becomes more resilient to negative experiences, and can turn them around into positive ones.
As far as enhancing social connection, even a smile can make a difference because it invites a smile back, and generates feelings of warmth among both people. A heartfelt thank you that focuses on the person you are thanking, not just on how their actions helped you, can also strengthen the social connection.
One concrete strategy Dr. Fredrickson discusses for enhancing social connectedness includes practicing Lovingkindness meditation. Here is one version of the meditation you can try out:
So Much More…
There is so much more to this theory about positive emotions and health. So, if you’re interested, dig in. Consider taking Dr. Fredrickson’s positive psychology course at Coursera.org.
As I think about what I’ve learned, there are two things that stand out in particular:
- Emotions are micro-moments of experiences. They come and go faster than you can think about them.
- Choose to be purposeful in your experiences of emotions. Just because you’re having a bad ‘micro-moment’ does not mean the next moment needs to be the same. Take charge of the feeling and switch it to a positive micro-moment.
Learn from Dr. Fredrickson
Here is a TedTalk by Dr. Fredrickson about love. It is a must watch: