We all know people that suffer from chronic negativity regardless how good or bad their circumstance.
It seems that these people get off on dwelling in their own misery. Every turn is the wrong turn. Nights out never go to plan. The movie was great but the theater was bone-chillingly cold.
You get the drift.
Although they seem as though they’re doomed for a life of misery, University of North Carolina psychologist Barbara Fredrickson thinks otherwise.
Fredrickson has done extensive research on fostering positive emotions, even coining the theory that accumulating “micro-moments of positivity,” can, over time, result in greater overall well-being.
The research that Dr. Fredrickson and others have done demonstrates that the extent to which we can generate positive emotions from even everyday activities can be a determining factor in who flourishes and who doesn’t. More than a sudden onslaught of good fortune, repeated brief moments of positive feelings can provide a buffer against stress and depression and foster both physical and mental health, their studies show.
This is not to say that one must always be positive to be healthy and happy. Clearly, there are times and situations that naturally result in negative feelings in the most upbeat of individuals. Worry, sadness, anger and other such “downers” have their place in any normal life. But chronically viewing the glass as half-empty is detrimental both mentally and physically and inhibits one’s ability to bounce back from life’s inevitable stresses.
When we experience negative emotions, we’re subconsciously activating a region of the brain called the amygdala, which is involved in processing fear and anxiety and other emotions.
Neuroscientist and founder of the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Healthy Minds, Dr. Richard J. Davidson, has shown that people in whom the amygdala recovers slowly from a threat are at greater risk for a variety of health problems than those in whom it recovers quickly.
Both he and Dr. Fredrickson and their colleagues have demonstrated that the brain is “plastic,” or capable of generating new cells and pathways, and it is possible to train the circuitry in the brain to promote more positive responses. In other words, a person can learn to be more positive by practicing certain skills that foster positivity.
For example, Dr. Fredrickson’s team found that six weeks of training in a form of meditation focused on compassion and kindness resulted in an increase in positive emotions and social connectedness and improved function of one of the main nerves that helps to control heart rate.
Dr. Davidson’s team showed that as little as two weeks’ training in compassion and kindness meditation generated changes in brain circuitry linked to an increase in positive social behaviors like generosity.
“The results suggest that taking time to learn the skills to self-generate positive emotions can help us become healthier, more social, more resilient versions of ourselves,” Fredrickson reported in the National Institutes of Health monthly newsletter in 2015.
Davidson goes on to say that, “well-being can be considered a life skill. If you practice, you can actually get better at it.” By learning and regularly practicing skills that promote positive emotions, you can become a happier and healthier person. Thus, there is hope for even the most begrudged people if they take the necessary steps to develop and reinforce positivity.
In her most recent book, “Love 2.0,” Dr. Fredrickson notes that “shared positivity — having two people caught up in the same emotion — may have even a greater impact on health than something positive experienced by oneself.” Think about watching a comedy alone vs. with your best mates. Which brings you more joy?
For most of us, it’s the shared happiness with others that yields a more fruitful experience.
Here are some guidelines set forth by Dr. Fredrickson to grow and foster positivity.
Appreciate the world around you. The sun, the clouds, the mountains, the architecture. Take it ALL in. You can find beauty in anything if you choose to.
Do good things for other people. In addition to making others happier, this enhances your own positive feelings. It can be something as simple as holding the door for someone or as generous as picking up someone’s tab at lunch. Doing good makes us feel good.
Establish goals within reach. Perhaps you want to read more, or learn a new language. Do it! The feeling of accomplishment will only breed positivity from the inside out.
Develop and foster relationships. Building strong social connections with friends or family members enhances feelings of self-worth and, long-term studies have shown, is associated with better health and a longer life.
Learn something new. Whether it’s a game, a sport, a language, an instrument, or how to tie a knot — reaching a goal instills a sense of achievement, self-confidence, and resilience. But, in order to achieve what you’ve set out to do, the vision, once again, must be realistic.
Love YOU. Self-acceptance breeds positivity. Acknowledge your imperfections but embrace your positive attributes and achievements. If only you saw you like we see you, perhaps this task wouldn’t be as daunting.
Practice mindfulness. Perseverating on past problems or future difficulties drains mental resources and steals attention from current pleasures. Let go of things you can’t control and focus on the here-and-now.
Practice resilience. Rather than let loss, stress, failure or trauma overwhelm you, use them as learning experiences and stepping stones to a better future.
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