Gratitude is the attitude.
That was perhaps the first positive emotion catch phrase that stuck in my consciousness and that I made use of frequently, and frequent use is important for creating positive feelings because positive emotions are brief experiences that feel good in the present and increase the chance that one will feel good in the future.
I have always wondered why it was not possible to sustain positive feelings. It seemed that no matter how hard I concentrated, I could not hold most positive feelings.
If you have any experience with non-ordinary states of consciousness then you know that feelings states can last longer than your usual positive feeling that you get when someone compliments your work.
The relief that comes with a very powerful healing workshop experience can last for days, weeks, even months, before it is fully integrated.
And cuing the memory of the workshop can bring back feelings even decades later.
Yet my experience of gratitude is the attitude might last only moments.
So I was quite happy to discover the work of the Positive Psychology folks, who are putting positive emotion under the reseach microscope to help us understand what they are and how they work.
From Jeff Froh, "Thanks largely to Isen and Fredrickson, empirical evidence supporting the role of positive emotions in promoting personal growth and development is accumulating. By increasing our thought-action repertoires (i.e., by broadening our cognitive and behavioral flexibility and options) and subsequently engendering physical, intellectual, and social resources, positive emotions improve coping and thus build resilience. Resiliency, in turn, predicts future occurrences of positive emotions. With positive emotions demonstrating such robust relationships to goal-achievement, physical and mental health, and other positive outcomes, it makes sense for psychology to further the understanding of positive emotions."
It makes sense then to do what the Cognitive Behavioral folks are saying to do, change the thought to change the feeling, and change it frequently.
One of the Cognitive Behavioral techniques I teach my anger management clients is a desensitization process, where an a list is made of situations where an unpleasant feeling is experienced, and the memory is cued and a cognitive disputation is practiced until the intensity of the emotion is reduced to something very minor, and then the next time the situation is actually experienced, the emotion associated with it is hardly, if at all, noticeable. Clients start with the least intense unpleasant feeling situation and work through the list to the most intense situation, reducing the intensity of each as they go, on a practice schedule which is safe for them.
Well, why can we not sensitize ourselves to positive feelings, perhaps making ourselves feel more positively, more frequently?
When I was first taught the phrase The Attitude is Gratitude, I was told to remember something that I was grateful for each time I found myself feeling resentful. In other words, each time I had a problem I was to create the solution.
What would happen if I practiced the solution, even if I was having no problem, every five minutes for two heart beats?
Each time I practice the solution, I feel good, and slowly I begin to be able to have positive emotion even when the external world is difficult.
Implicit in that wisdom is that we have this kind of awareness available to us as humans, and I believe we do, so with practice, even while I am typing a website page for example, I can listen in a bit to my self talk and manage it, switching from the internal to the external very rapidly. Remember to think lovingly of my family while I do the proof reading, which is constant, given my spelling skills, is possible to do while I feel love for my son, who is stirring in his room overhead.
Are there any helpful tools which can help in this process of positive emotion practice?
I think the HeartMath tool is just what the Doctor ordered. HeartMath is a biofeedback tool that teaches me to become very aware of subtle changes in the time between my heart beats.
If I can keep my heart beat coherent, I keep the hormonal bath in my body healthful, and I regularly cue all the benefits associated with positive emotions, and the HeartMath experience itself feels very good.
HeartMath teaches me initially to be aware of my heart beat on a beat by beat basis, which may seem impossible to you, unless your heart is beating very hard.
But with a bit of practice, because your heart has a very sophisticated nervous system which can learn and make decisions independently of your cranial brain, your heart will help you feel very subtle differences in its beat, and you can adjust your feelings very well very quickly.
The heart's intelligence is affiliative and cooperative also, which results in a contentment kind of feeling.
One other very important benefit of using HeartMath to cue positive feelings is that the heart sends very important information to the higher perceptual centers of the brain.
So not only are you cuing positive emotions and resilience, you are making your brain more fit, meaning that two recently discovered capacities of the brain, neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, are also enhanced by positive emotions done the HeartMath way.
Positive Feelings for Brain Fitness
If you are curious about brain fitness, then I encourage you to read Brainfit for Life by Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D., neuroscientists at the University of Michigan.
It is possible to workout your brain and make some positive differences in your ability to sustain or even increase your brain's effectiveness.
If that doesn't give you a positive emotion, I am not sure what will.
To summarize where we are, positive feelings can be routine, and they are healthy, and HeartMath is great tool for doing that training, and if your heart is beating coherently, it is opening up the higher perceptual centers in your brain.
Evans and Burghardt describe how to make the brain fit, which you are already doing with your HeartMath tool, by the way, by attending to what they call the pillars of brain fitness.
The pillars of brain fitness are physical exercise, nutrition, stress management, sleep, and novel learning experiences, which might include using computerized brain fitness programs.
I am sure you have read a tremendous amount about the connection between positive psychology and positive feelings and physical exericise or activity.
The good news? Feel positive that the benefits of exercise can be had without hoisting huge barbells or training for a marathon.
You can get them by using a HIIT or high intensity interval training workout in your basement utility room.
HIIT refers to a 10 minute workout doing 30 second intervals of calisthenics, for example, at your pace, at your level of intensity. Can you find 10 minutes a day to feel good and increase your brain fitness?
Need a model? Here are some folks, Scott and Angie Tousignant who have put together a model for couples to do together, to enhance their relationship and their health.
(When do we have joy, folks? When we are connected in relationship).
The novel learning experience required for sustained brain fitness is the kind involved in learning a new language or a new instrument, or in using any of the computerized brain fitness programs on the market now.
I use the latter, since I do not have time for learning a new instrument right now.
Believe it or not, I actually feel good after finishing my practices with the programs. I use the following three regularly, to make sure I do not lose my memories to alzheimers.
They really fit well with HeartMath.
Would You Share What You Are Most Grateful For?
Very early in my personal growth experience, a wise person taught me to use the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was resentful or afraid and that phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.