Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does. We take a look at how to create positive emotions to help you on your way.
Ever felt as though you invested a ton of effort into something only to see, well zilch, nada, nowt in return? I love this quote from psychologist, William James. When we experience a low ebb, it’s easy to question whether all our hard work is really making a difference.When we consciously make the effort to break bad habits and work towards positive change, how do we know that our endeavours are creating the desired effect? In this post we’ll take a look at;
- Positive emotions a definition
- How to take small steps to positive change
- Positive transformation and how to create it
- How happiness is a skill
- The work of Barbara Fredrickson
- Recognising & creating positive change
We’ve got you covered with a complete road map for using positive emotions to make a difference.
How to Create Positive Emotions: Small steps towards positive change
This is where psychology and neuroscience combine to provide answers that can both encourage and motivate us through periods of doubt. A growing body of research demonstrates that the small steps we choose to make on a daily basis have a cumulative, long-term effect that can lead us towards positive transformation.
Take for example, the practice of keeping a gratitude journal (a positive emotions list) in order to acknowledge positive experiences which present themselves daily. Whereas it may once have been thought that such positive emotions and their effects are fleeting, recent research demonstrates that something much more profound is taking place both physically and psychologically. Psychologist, Barbara Fredrickson, a world renowned expert in the field of positive emotions describes how her research reveals two core truths:
1. Positive emotions literally open and develop the boundaries of our minds.
2. Positive emotions change and build the outlook we hold of our environment.
Is positive emotions psychology difficult? Nope, not a bit. Fredrickson uses the analogy of a flower physically opening towards the sun and likens the human brain to the flower reacting to the rays of positive emotion from humanity. Fredrickson’s positivity studies have shown that inducing positive emotions in subjects (by showing pictures of sunsets, puppies, fluffy penguins for example, or by giving a small gift, such as wrapped candy, at the start of an experiment) prompts bigger picture thinking. Positive emotions literally open and broaden a person’s perspective. Fredrickson’s studies also reveal, through the tracking of eye movements, that our eyes literally take in a wider array of detail when we experience positive emotions and the expanse of our peripheral vision is increased.
Because we see more in a positive state, we are open to a greater variety of possibilities and are also able to think more creatively. We are even more resilient, bouncing back more quickly from adversity when we experience positive emotions. Fredrickson argues that by broadening our approach in this way, by using play, exploration or other similar activities, positive emotions promote discovery of new and creative actions, ideas and social bonds. This process builds an individual’s personal resources, including physical, intellectual, social and psychological resources. These resources function as reserves that can be utilised at a later time, to optimise health and well-being and improve the odds of successfully coping and surviving in times of challenge, this is also known as Fredrickson’s ‘broaden and build’ theory and really demonstrates the importance of positive emotions.
How to Create Positive Emotions: Happiness as a skill
Neuroscientist, Richard Davidson, suggests that we should regard general well-being and emotions such as happiness as skills which are fundamentally no different to learning to play a musical instrument. Davidson’s research examines the brain’s ability to change, also known as ‘plasticity’. The benefits of positive emotions? Davidson’s work reveals that when we experience positive emotions we are using specific areas of the brain’s pre-frontal cortex. As more positive emotions are experienced, increasing numbers of neurons fire and wire together to develop this area of the brain.
How to Create Positive Emotions: Recognising positive change
The next time you find yourself working hard to achieve positive transformation and pondering how effective your actions are, take a moment to think of Fredrickson’s broaden and build theory and the very real development that your actions will be creating in your brain.
Like to hear more from Dr Barbara Fredrickson on positive emotions?
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