I don't know about you, but I am ready for a little break from bad news. Madoff made off, unemployment is rising, solid families are losing their homes, and stress is ever underfoot. It would be so easy to slip under the waves of fear, depression or just plain anger. So, what to do? The phrase "focus on the positive" is beyond cliché -- but is it?
One of my favorite books to come out of the "positive psychology" movement is called Positivity, by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson. Truly a genius and pioneer in the field, Dr. Fredrickson has been studying positive emotions in her lab long before it was vogue. Her data reveals that negative emotions, like fear, can close down our ability to function, while positive emotions open us up to possiblity, and an increased ability to move forward.
If the whole "Happiness Movement" needed some teeth to it- she's got it, for this is far from 'hearts and flowers' work. In fact, she prefers the term "Positivity" to "Happiness", and stresses the importance and possibility of not just being happy; but flourishing. Isn't that a lovely word? Wouldn't we all love to flourish?
Dr. Fredrickson's came up with a top 10 list of positive emotions, in order of most frequent to least. Allow yourself an opportunity to scroll through the list and ask yourself, "When did I last fully experience this emotion?" The answers may surprise you.
Joy happens in an instant -- a perfect moment captured when all is just exactly as it should be. Think of a wonderful holiday morning with the family, an unexpected present that delights you, or seeing the first smile on your infant's face. What brings you Joy?
Gratitude is a moment of realizing someone has gone out of their way for you, or simply feeling overwhelmed with your heart opening, after being moved in some way. With gratitude comes a desire to give in return or 'pay it forward' in some way. When did you last experienced deep Gratitude?
Serenity is like a mellow, relaxed, or sustained version of Joy. Serenity is a peacefulness that comes on a cloudless day, when you realize there's nothing you have to do. Serenity is indulging in a favorite luxury, and being mindful enough to take it in. Serenity is the moment on vacation when you finally let go. Has Serenity crossed your door lately?
Interest is a heightened state that calls your attention to something new that inspires fascination, and curiosity. Like a shiny new toy to capture your imagination, interest is alive and invigorating. Interest wakes you up, and leaves you wanting more. What Interests you these days?
Dr. Fredrickson describes it best: "Unlike other emotions that arise out of comfort and safety, hope springs out of dire circumstances, as a beacon of light. Deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change, turn out better. Possibilities exist. Hope sustains you and motivates you to turn things around." The inauguration of President Obama brought me Hope. What brings you Hope?
Ever done something really well that took a little time and effort? Maybe you reached a goal you never thought was attainable? Then pat yourself on the back with unadulterated Pride. Stand back, take that deep breath and let it in -- you earned it. What have you done that made your proud?
Think of amusement as those delightful surprises that make you laugh. It's those unexpected moments that interrupt your focus and crack you up. It's a great feeling to have amusement sparkle out of the doldrums and instantly change your perspective. Have you had any amusement in your life recently?
Inspiration is a moment that touches your heart and nearly takes your breath away -- or takes in your breath, as the word literally translates. Inspiration whispers between the strands of your hair, as you watch a perfect sunset, witness academic or athletic excellence, or observe unexpected triumphs over adversity. What brings Inspiration in your life?
Awe happens when you come across goodness on a grand scale, and you feel overwhelmed by greatness. Awe is triggered when we are faced with the vastness of Nature, or the cosmos. Gazing at the Milky Way and counting the stars, or standing at the top of the Grand Canyon triggers awe. Have you had a moment of awe lately?
Guess what? The list is rigged. Actually, the #1 most frequent positive emotion is here at the bottom. Love encompasses all of the above: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration and even awe. Love is all that and more. When we experience love, our bodies are flooded with the "feel good" hormones that reduce stress and even lengthen our lives.
How did you make out on your list? Are you experiencing these emotions on a regular basis, occasionally, or hardly any at all? Most importantly, how can we experience them more often?
Let's try an experiment together. All you need are some sticky notes.
Put each of the ten positive words above on a sticky note. For the next ten days, peel off one at a time, and take that word with you, wherever you go, as your daily "flourishing mission." Put your daily sticky note on your dashboard, in your pocket or on the bathroom mirror. Take in the essence of each word, and try to bring it out in others.
Let's see what happens! Be sure to share your comments and experiences, and we will gather again next Sunday to see how it goes! I'd love to include your stories as part of next week's piece!