A Positive State of Mind (Part II): 4 Simple Ideas for Growing More Positive Emotions

by - March 12, 2018

positive, emotions, inner quiet, peace, calm, mindfulness, meditation, gratitude, wellness, wellbeing, lifestyle

In the second part of A Positive State of Mind we're going to focus on the various physical, mental and emotional benefits of positivity and explore possible ways of how you can strengthen them. We've already become aware of the negativity bias and discovered the fascinating power of the positivity spiral in the previous segment of this series. But this time around we will find out how to feel more positive emotions and share tips and ideas on how to implement them into your healthy lifestyle with a little scientific help.


Before we begin, let's have a quick look at the benefits of positivity to our physical health. We've all heard of the link between lowering stress and keeping your heart healthy. But did you know that positivity can contribute to achieving the same results? Studies have reported that positive emotions can improve your cardiac vagal tone - individuals with higher cardiac vagal tone are better able to regulate their emotions and handle negative situations (Kok et al., 2013). A cardiac vagal tone is known as the healthy heart rate that's created when the vagus nerve slows your heart rate down and calms your body and brain. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve, having the widest outreach in the body. It connects the brain with the heart and with the other internal organs.

Positivity is also found to have a great impact on our immune system. And more specifically, experiencing positive emotions is associated with lower levels of proinflammatory cytokines - molecules that promote inflammation and can cause or sustain health issues (Stellar et al., 2015). That's why it's interesting to note that now you can be in charge of improving your health by cultivating more positive emotions.


Psychological research on the ratio between daily positive and negative emotions and their effect shows that frequently feeling mild positive experiences is vital to flourishing in life and building resilience. So you don't have to think of hysterical happiness as the only possible positive emotion out there that can improve your health and mind set. Daily positive emotions such as joy, awe, contentment and compassion are proven to be way more effective than a once in a blue moon moment of happiness. But in order to feel the power of the positive spiral, you shouldn't wait for something to happen to allow yourself to feel joy and contentment. Every day is an opportunity for you to find something that can bring the spark of awe or joy in you.

Here's a little game for you - every time you become aware of yourself thinking "I'd feel happy/ relaxed/ relieved when I'm done with that report/ task/ errand", pause, reflect and reframe it. You can feel happy regardless of whether you're in the middle or finished or just about to start with x, y and z. Once you get out of the habit of putting boundaries between experiencing positive emotions and demands or responsibilities, you'll feel truly liberated.

Those individuals who are more likely to prioritize positive experiences report greater positive emotions, better relationships and lower depressive symptoms. The simple act of turning what we know can bring us positive emotions into an everyday priority can be transformative. This could be anything from spending time outside, catching up with friends, drinking your favorite coffee, working out or whatever your heart desires. I'd like to encourage you not to leave prioritizing positivity for the weekend or your holiday only, but incorporate small acts daily. Remember, you don't have to give yourself a permission to feel happy.


Positive emotions that are felt and shared with others can create a synchronic bond, which elevates the oxytocin (i.e. a neurotransmitter, also known as the "love hormone") in our brains. By connecting with others and creating more positive experiences, we contribute to not only ours, but also others' collective wellbeing. Hence, one more reason to gather all your friends around your place for a healthy home-cooked dinner or take them outside and soak up some of the March sun. Next time when you're feeling down and sitting alone, wondering whether being around others would make you even more miserable, think about the other possibility - you may actually lighten up and catch some of your circle's good vibes. It's in our nature to crave social connections, so don't deprive yourself from what nourishes you as a human being!


Loving-Kindness meditation (LKM) is an ancient behavioural technique that is based on verbal and mental phrases (e.g. may all living beings be safe, happy, healthy, live joyously). It involves sending wishes and thoughts of wellness to others by growing loving-kindness in ourselves and then spreading it to others. There's actually scientific research on the benefits of loving-kindness meditation for those of you who are keen to know more. Scientists have found out that LKM increases positive emotions over time, which in turn allows an increase in self-compassion, self-acceptance and overall wellbeing (Boellinghaus, Jones & Hutton, 2012). You can access a good range of free loving-kindness guided meditations on YouTube and discover more detailed guideline and information at The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society (CMind). If you're new to meditation and wish to become a bit more familiar with it, you can check out our In Search of Balance article where we've covered meditation for new starters. Whether you wish to try meditating or not, it's entirely up to you. Just make sure you feel free and absolutely happy in your choice! There's no right or wrong, it's your body, your mind and your life.


Another way you can sustain and multiply all the good feels bubbling up in you is simply by giving thanks. You can do it mentally by thinking of what you're feeling grateful for when you wake up, before you go to sleep or throughout the day whenever a thought of gratitude pops up in your mind. Of course, if you wish you could also verbally express those feelings out loud to yourself, to the empty space, to your loved ones or your pet. You can write short texts of appreciation to your friends, family and significant one, send an unexpected email showing how much you treasure them in your life or write down your notes of thanksgiving on real, paper notes (such a novelty in our day and age, isn't it?). There are plenty of methods to show your creative side and to spread the appreciation within yourself and others. There's a small chance it might seem a bit strange to you at first, but stick around for a bit longer and then feel free to re-evaluate. If spoken acts of appreciation are not your thing, privately jot down your thoughts of gratitude in a journal or on your phone (no judging, here!). It's the action that is matters, not the style. The more you get the sense of those feelings naturally coming to you, the more you'll thank and appreciate and the more you'll find what to feel thankful and appreciative for (remember the positivity spiral?).

As I hope you can see, there is a deep sea of opportunities for you to grow more and more positive emotions every day. It's all in the small moments, the joy, the gratitude, compassion and appreciation - you already have them in you! All you have to do is just invite them more often, fully allow yourself to feel them and welcome them again. The feeling of positivity creates positivity.


References

Boellinghaus, I., Jones, FW. & Hutton, J. (2012). The Role of Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness Meditation in Cultivating Self-Compassion and Other-Focused Concern in Health Care Professionals. Mindfulness.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The Role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology: The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.

Kok, B. E., Coffey, K. A., Cohn, M.A., Catalino, L. I., Vacharkulksemsek, T., Algoe, S. B., Brantley, M. & Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health: Perceived Positive Social Connections Account for the Upward Spiral Between Positive Emotions and Vagal Tone. Psychological Science, 24, 1123-1132.

Stellar, J., John-Henderson, N., Anderson, C., Gordon, A., McNeil, G. & Keltner, D. (2015). Positive Affect and Markers of Inflammation: Descrete Positive Emotions Predict Lower Levels of Inflammatory Cytokines. American Psychological Association, 15, 1528-3542.


Inner Quiet is all about you. We will tackle the thoughts and fears of living in a world that keeps going even when you feel that you need a break. When a stressful life wraps you in its claws with no-way-out, we will try to show you another possibility, another solution, another way. No matter what you do or what you want to see yourself doing, we want to help you to shine through you. To be a human is hard enough without the constant pressure of being perfect and in this day and age we might feel it's impossible to live free of self-imposed constraints and others' expectations. Let's prove it wrong.

Previously on Inner Quiet - A Positive State of Mind (Part I): Why Negativity Is Not Healthy

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