“Positivity opens us. The first core truth about positive emotions is that they open our hearts and our minds, making us more receptive and more creative.” Barbara Frederickson

I just came back from the Embodied Positive Psychology Summit where I had the incredible opportunity to hear Barbara Frederickson present. If you do not know Barbara Frederickson she is a positive psychology researcher out of University of Chapel Hill, NC. She has come up with the Broaden and Build Theory of Happiness, the Positivity Ratio, a multitude of other studies and written several books which we all can read and understand! I enjoy the way she is able to take her research and share it with the masses in a way that we can apply it directly to our own lives. I also liked how truly humble she is. Everyone who studies or knows about Positive Psychology refers to her work and uses it.

Barbara Frederickson posed the question, “Why Prioritize Positivity?” She used the metaphor of a wave to describe how our emotions come and go like ‘micro-moments”. Our physical bodies actually respond to different emotional states such as joy, sadness, anger etc. as researched by Melissa Gross at the University of Michigan. One of her experiments put sensors on the body and measured how the body responded to positive emotions showing that the torso actually expanded creating a ‘broadening’ of the body. By broadening our awareness through positive emotions our world view expands and we are able to see more possibilities, it fuels our creativity, and creates oneness with others. Positive emotions allow us to see the big picture and help us build up our resiliency to deal with issues as they may arise. Barbara Frederickson went on to explain how positivity builds our resources so that we are more resilient, connected and feel more hope. We cannot escape some of the stresses and difficulties of life, but positivity helps us to bounce back faster.

In her book Love 2.0 Barbara Frederickson shows how her experiments in her lab measured heart rate variability and heart health by randomly assigning positive emotions through Loving Kindness Meditation which helps self-generate positive emotions. By practicing loving kindness meditation they saw clear improvements in glucose, inflammation in the body, heart health, and immune health. By practicing loving kindness meditation for seven weeks and increasing positive emotions Barbara Frederickson in her landmark study ( Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008) found that there was an increase in love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe increasing well-being and life satisfaction.

Here are 3 ways to increase positive emotions:

  1. Watch your habits of thinking. What is the gift I should be cherishing now and spend some time in Gratitude. Changing your focus of attention and ask yourself what is going well right now?
  1. In order for our bodies to register positive emotions we need to slow down. Look around and observe what is the blessing here right now? Take a moment to savor whatever or wherever you are. There is a lot of truth in the statement stop and smell the roses! Use all of your senses to take in what you are doing whether it is eating a wonderful meal, walking through the park, watching children play, or laughing with a friend.
  1. These micro moments of positive emotions create Connection and they can occur with any human. Practice loving kindness and have countless experiences towards one self. Slow down and feel the appreciation of your life, of your breath, right here right now.

Barbara Frederickson talked about Positive Fantasizing and how when we focus on problems and fantasize about a positive future which is not a good thing to do. This may lead to a temporary uplift of mood but it is disconnected from reality. The positive emotions need to fit the situation. By fabricating positivity and presenting a way of being, which is not fitting to the situation, is not doing us any good. A good way to look at life is through the lens of Gratitude. I am breathing. I am still alive. Victor Frankl in his book Mans Search for Meaning looked at the opportunity of hope. His message is ultimately one of hope: even in the most absurd, painful, and awful circumstances of a concentration camp, life can be given meaning.

Prioritizing Positivity does not mean that you make Be Positive as your motto. Excessively valuing happiness and worried about your happiness even when you are happy is another way people beat themselves up. ( Mauss, Tamir, Anderson & Savio Emotion II, 807-815) By adopting an open mindset ,as discussed in Carol Dwecks work, the emotions are more likely to follow. Positivity is a delicate art. We cannot make ourselves feel positive emotions through wishful thinking we have to put in the effort. We need to set up the conditions right.

Consider some of these emotional regulation strategies:

  1. What job do you choose?
  2. What town do I choose to live in?
  3. Putting effort into saying Thank you – write a thank you note to someone you are grateful to with all of the descriptions as to why.
  4. Loving Kindness Meditation for atleast three weeks showed that people scored higher on increased positivity. ( LKM Study mindful meditation)Barbara Frederickson suggested leaning in and using LKM.
  5. Creating a habit that cultivates positive emotions which will produce a downstream affect that pops into our minds. For example if you swim and have positive thoughts about swimming it can predict that this will be a motivator to swim again next week. The more you enjoy the activity the more it becomes a harmonious passion which cycles in reciprocal spirals. ( Robert Vallerand, Passion) By creating these upward spirals and focus on prioritizing positivity you can create lifestyle change and increase your motives for wellness behaviors. Rather than relying on will power and just doing it, which doesn’t necessarily work, you are creating a more harmonious and longer lasting life change.

By embodying positivity we broaden our awareness and build enduring resources and health. It increases our well-being and broadens and builds the effect. Barbara Frederickson noted that a lot of this is from ancient psychology and Buddhism but is now having the evidence based scientific verification to support it. Happiness can be learned and there are many things we can take from Barbara Frederickson’s exciting research and apply directly to our own lives.