We tend to not focus on the positive emotions that much. With the possible exception of happiness, because as a culture America is fairly obsessed with happiness. After all, it’s right there in our bill of rights. We are guaranteed the right to the pursuit of happiness!! Emphasis on the word pursuit, which means chasing after, which means you don’t have it. Even in the case of the positive emotion that we DO focus on, we don’t talk about it as an experience, but as a pursuit.
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Also, the human brain is wired to pay more attention to negative things than positive things. It’s called the negativity bias, and it extends to emotions, too. So you are more likely to get your attention hooked on things like anger, anxiety, jealousy, or indignation, and what we focus on grows. So this week, let’s focus more on those fulfilling emotions.
It’s like this
Imagine that your emotional wellbeing is a see-saw. One one side are all the negative emotions, and on the other are the positive emotions.
I just want to go on record as saying that even though I’m using the words positive and negative, there are no bad emotions. All emotions have a purpose and are part of the human experience. Also, you are entitled to feel how you feel. It’s just that our emotions follow our attention. So it’s easy for us to get stuck in a whirlpool of negative emotions unless we consciously choose to pay attention to some of the positive emotions and actively seek to cultivate them.
Remember when you were a kid on a see saw and someone much heavier than you got on, and the see saw went all the way down on their end, which meant that you were stuck up in the air with your legs dangling and there was nothing you could do about it except ask them to straighten their legs? Well, that’s how it can be if you don’t take the time and make the effort to notice when you’re in the positive realm, and do things that help those positive emotions arise.
What you’re up to this week is bringing movement back into that see saw so that it’s teetering back and forth and that you can start to spend at least as much time in the up parts as you do in the down.
So, aside from feeling nice, what do positive emotions have to offer us?
Frankly, a LOT.
- First, and most basically, positive emotions can increase vitality, because they make you feel ALIVE.
- They also tend to bring you into the present moment, which promotes focus and reduces stress.
- When you are feeling buoyed by positive emotions, it’s easier to reach out and connect with others because you won’t worry about feeling like a burden, you’ll just sort of naturally bubble over.
- On a physical level, they support and improve immune system function, whether directly or indirectly, by helping you form and improve relationships with other people.
- They also stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which rules our rest and digest functions. This boosts relaxation and healing and gets you out of fight or flight.
- Psychologically, they are like counterweights to depression and anxiety.
- And overall, they boost our resilience. They don’t make negative emotions or circumstances go away for ever, but they help you bounce back from them.
Daily Tiny Assignment
Your tiny assignment today is just to notice any little tick in positive feeling. Maybe it’s when you walk in the door at the end of the day and you feel that relief and safety of being home. Or maybe when you sit down with a plate of hot food for lunch or dinner, or the smell of your coffee and the warm cup in your hand and you feel anticipation. Maybe your dog does that funny wiggle when she sees you and your heart swells a little bit. Or someone you live with does something that you appreciate. Or you get in bed and feel just a thrill of happiness because now you get to rest.
For today, just notice. And by notice, I mean, say to yourself, whether internally or out-loud, ooh, here’s a positive emotion. What we focus on grows, so today, start training your focus on those health and wellbeing-boosting positive emotions.
And come back or keep listening, as the rest of this week we’re going to do a deeper dive on amusement, wonder, gratitude (naturally, seeing as it’s Thanksgiving), and contentment. It’s gonna be fun.