The powerful benefits of positive emotions
Psychologist, Barbara Fredrickson is famous for her ‘broaden and build’ theory on positive emotions. Fredrickson’s research shows that the more we focus on, and build, our repertoire of positive emotions, the broader the application of our positive emotions and their benefits become. We examine the best way to broaden and build your own positive emotions.
The twelve step toolkit
Supporting you in your quest to build positive emotions, Fredrickson suggests an easy to use toolkit of twelve techniques to help cultivate positive emotions. Which of the twelve suggestions appeals most to you?
Tool 1: Be open
Fredrickson urges us to adopt the motto “be open”. This first tool invites us to temporarily put expectations and judgments aside and allow ourselves to be mindfully present in the moment. For example, on your morning walk, ignore the mental to-do list and practice being open to nature.
Broaden and Build Tool 2: Create high-quality connections
Fredrickson suggests we connecting with others in a meaningful way. She cites the work of Jane Dutton, cofounder of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship at the University of Michigan) who’s research points to four ways to build these high-quality connections.
- Be present, attentive and affirming by fully focusing on others &encouraging their endeavours.
- Show support for what the other person is doing – do what you can to help them succeed.
- Demonstrate trust – believe that the person can meet your expectations (and let it show).
- Allow time for ‘play’ – spend time with this person occasionally with no outcomes in mind.
Broaden and Build Tool 3: Cultivate kindness
Commit five acts of kindness every day. You can do this by assessing what those around you need the most and find positive ways to make a difference to them.
Broaden and Build Tool 4: Develop distractions
Distractions break the grip of negativity. The goal here is to shift your focus away from anxieties and troubles. Fredrickson suggests making two lists, one of healthy distractions and the other list of unhealthy distractions. Healthy distractions might include going for a bike ride, walking your dog, playing a game with your child or a friend, reading a novel, etc. Unhealthy distractions to avoid might include excessively eating, drinking alcohol, or playing video games for hours. Aim for any activity from the list of healthy distractions.
Broaden and Build Tool 5: Dispute negative thinking
This exercise is adapted from Martin Seligman’s work into depression prevention at Pennsylvania University and teaches us to dispute our negative thoughts. On a set of index cards write your typical negative thoughts, such as “I always do this wrong, how will I ever get any better at this?”, “why hasn’t she called by now? Doesn’t she care about me?” Whatever your typical negative thoughts are, make sure they are included on the cards. Once you have written your set of cards shuffle them and pick one out at random. Read it out loud. Next, as quickly and thoroughly as possible, dispute it out loud. What are the facts? When you are satisfied that you’ve dismissed the negative thought, move on to a different card. Negative thoughts can be automatic; the purpose of this exercise is to ensure they are nipped in the bud as quickly as they occur.
Broaden and Build Tool 6: Find nature nearby
Locate a dozen natural spots that you can get to in a matter of minutes that connect you to trees, water, skies or greenery when the weather is good. Connecting with nature has been shown to boost positivity. Make these places a regular destination.
Broaden and Build Tool 7: Learn and apply your strengths
You can take a free online strengths test at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center www.authentichappiness.com and learn your 24 signature strengths and how to apply them. Once you have established your strengths plan to use them every day. Consider and address the changes you might need to make to do this.
Broaden and Build Tool 8: Meditate mindfully
Sit in a quiet place for a few minutes and take several deep breaths. Notice how it feels. Where do you feel your breath? Continue to observe your breath. The goal in attending to your breath here is to practice being present in the here and now. Invariably, your mind will wander. Allow it to wander, don’t chastise yourself for these wandering thoughts, just notice your attention has strayed and return your focus to your breathing to continue to stay present.
Broaden and Build Tool 9: Meditate on loving kindness
Start by focusing on your breath and the region of your heart. Once you are focused here, reflect on a person for whom you have warm, tender or compassionate feelings. Your goal is to connect to warm and natural feelings by visualising how being with this loved person makes you feel. Once this positivity has been created within you, let go of the image of the individual and hold the feeling.
Broaden and Build Tool 10: Ritualise gratitude
Being grateful means you notice gifts and appreciate the people around you. Use this tool to take stock of what is good in your life. Doing so draws your attention to positive events.
Broaden and Build Tool 11: Savour positivity
Choose a source of love, joy or pride and a willingness to think differently about these sources. Think of a past moment when you enjoyed an experience or being with someone important to you. Allow yourself to examine the images from all angles. Recognise the value of these good feelings for your mindset and practice savouring them.
Broaden and Build Tool 12: Visualise your future
In this journaling exercise, imagine yourself five years from now after everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have accomplished all the goals you set yourself. Write down where you will be and how it will feel when all of your goals have been achieved.
After a week or so, review what you’ve written and from this draw out your life’s mission. What purpose do you want to drive you every day? What’s the meaning of your existence? Contemplate these big questions and put your thoughts in your journal, then distill them into a mission statement. Create a ten year plan to help you meet your mission. Reduce your plan to bullet points to support you in current and future decision making, moving you towards your goals.
Putting the toolkit into practice
You can try just one of the above tools or you can try all of them and see which works best for you. Either way, take the test on Prof. Fredrickson’s website to find your level of positivity before and after using these techniques https://www.positivityratio.com/single.php
Like to learn more? Prof. Fredrickson explains more about positive emotions here: