Crossing paths with toddlers entering the Y for a kid-oriented activity is a usual routine for Jane Brody. High-fives, hellos and wishing them a fun time are just a few to mention of her daily interaction with the kids. After all, she said, it’s a great way to start the day and who wouldn’t be uplifted seeing those cute little representatives of the generations to come.?
When she told about a fellow swimmer how positivity and positive emotions benefit human, a fellow swimmer asked “What do you do about people who are always negative? “ as she refers to her chronically negative parents that seems to drag everything down making family visits even more uninviting.
Living with a man suffering from periodic bouts of depression for half a century, Brody understands how life-changing negativism can be. Dr Barbara Frederickson, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, theorised that accumulating “micro-moments of positivity “ can tender greater overall well-being.
This research demonstrated how our capacity to generate positivity even from simple activities determines who flourishes and who does not. It doesn’t need to be a sudden boost or overnight positive stimulus. Still, repetitive feelings of positivity can slow down and aid against stress and depression, thus promoting both physical and mental health.
However, as natural as we all are, it does not necessarily mean that one can only be happy if he is all the way positive or experience feelings of positive emotions. For the most part, no one is exempted from negative feelings as we encounter trials and situations in our everyday lives. Negative thoughts or feelings such as worry, sadness, anger and anything one can mention usually have a little place in our lives. However, a mindset and perspective of the glass as half empty can be quite challenging and might lead to an inability to withstand stresses and inevitable life situations.
A region in the brain called amygdala, which is involved in fear, anxiety, and other emotions are activated as we resort to negative feelings. According to Dr Richard J. Davidson, neuroscientist and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “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.”.
Dr Frederickson and Dr Davidson have shown how our brain is capable of generating new cells, and it’s as if one can program the brain to promote and develop more positive responses. That positivity can be learned by practising and exercising the brain to do so.
Not only does cultivating positivity benefits our mental hygiene and health, but it also conditions our bodies in a way we are not all aware. An example of this was a six-week training of meditation conducted by Dr Frederickson focused on compassion and kindness. This yielded results of increased positive emotions, social connectedness, and improvement in the function of one of the primary nerves that controls heart rate. The result was more variable heart rate, better control of blood glucose, less inflammation and even faster recovery from a heart attack.
Dr Davidson’s 2-week training on compassion and kindness meditation resulted in the changes in brain circuitry and an increase in positive social behaviours such as generosity.
As Dr Frederickson puts it, “These 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.”
Just like the quote ”what the mind can conceive, the body can achieve”, Dr Davidson stated, “well-being can be considered a skill. If you practice, you can get better at it.”. Negative people still have a high chance of getting back on track and resetting their minds into a more positive outlook and reinforcing the behaviour.
A quote from Dr Frederickson’s newest book, Love 2.0 “shared positivity-having two people caught up in the same emotion-may even have a greater impact on health than something positive experienced by oneself. This is evident in instances where we find a funny video and can’t wait to share it with our friend. This makes something even more amusing as we experience mutual emotions with somebody. She said this could result in people” feeling more in tune with other people at the end of the day.” Pretty sure you have also tried smiling at a stranger and being smiled back, this generated positive feelings and social connectedness.
Below are some activities that foster positivity.
- Charity. This is the act of doing something good for other people. Making others happy can enhance positive emotions within yourself.
- Being appreciative of what surrounds you. This can be a pure work of art or even the existence of a chirping bird. Appreciating what’s around you generates a calmer and more peaceful feeling.
- Develop and flourish in relationships. Having strong connections with family and friends can enhance self-confidence and self-worth and is associated with a healthier and longer life.
- Establish SMART goals. Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound goals develop your sense of fulfilment as these can be achieved and results-oriented. Impractical and quite impossible goals only foster stress.
- Always learn and never stop learning. Instead of being too focused on a single skill, an excellent way to cultivate positivity is by learning new things. This can be crochet, dancing, a language or anything under the sun. However, do not be distracted with too many things at once as this will only entail stress and low self-confidence.
- Accept and love yourself. While we are all exposed to what society’s view of acceptable and beautiful is, it is always better to stand above the blues. Trends maybe for a day but individual uniqueness will always stand out. Accept rather than compare. This dissolves insecurity reflexes all of us are vulnerable.
- Resilience is key. Remember, when life gives you lemons, make some lemonade. One may seem to think that bouncing back from challenging situations is not easy work, but it’s not. Do not be overwhelmed with failures but learn from these experiences.
- Be realistic. Do not dwell on what happened in the past. Move on and think of ways to be more proactive. Let go of things you are not in control. Be in the present.