A positive emotions quote that has stuck with me over the years, by Abraham Lincoln, reads like this, "People are about as happy as they choose to be."
I use that quote in my anger management workshops, where the focus is on emotional management, even positive psychology, rather than on just anger management. Anger has a purpose, and we need it to solve problems.
I like to teach that we can cultivate and train ourselves to manage our internal experience (thinking and emotional) very effectively, much like the Buddhist meditators did in Richard Davidson's work, described so effectively by Sharon Begley in her book, Train Your Brain, Change Your Mind.
Those meditators actually changed the structure of their brains, and were able to feel strong feelings of compassion for all living things, for longer periods of time than the 'average bear'.
I like the feeling of compassion, and consider it to be a positive emotion.
In my work as a domestic violence educator, I often quote from M. Csikszentmihalyi's work FLOW, and challenge my clients to create that for themselves, in their minds and bodies, and I ask them to imagine what the impact on their mates and children will be, given the importance of attachment.
I have never had a client who was a parent fail to smile when he or she imagined holding their child.
So how do we train positive emotions?
My training in managing positive emotions inside my body, began about 30 years ago, when I learned the phrase "Gratitude is the Attitude."
I began to use it to induce feelings of gratitude whenever I noticed feelings of resentment.
Oftentimes that resentment could spiral out of control in less than a second, based on a sequence of thoughts about how unfair something was, and I learned that I could manage the inside of my body by remembering that "Gratitude was the attitude."
I also learned that there was a time and a place and a way to address perceived and actual injustices.
Until that time and place, I could choose how I felt, and what thoughts I might choose to have, and I could not see any reason to cultivate negative thoughts, so I would often times create thoughts about chores to do, and the satisfaction I might feel when they were done.
I have exercised for the good feelings that follow from that.
The one thing I noticed about my work to change my cognitions and feelings is that I could never hold the positive emotion for very long, and now I understand that there might be some biological reason for that, given that endorphins do not last for long, but I also found myself continuing my search for tools that left me feeling positive for longer periods of time.
And in 1998 or so, when I was still doing brain wave or EEG biofeedback, I began to see references to HeartMath, and the proponents were quite excited about HeartMath.
I was curious about it, and finally went to a workshop about HeartMath or heart rate variability biofeedback and discovered a tool that allows me to have longer periods of positive feelings and all the health a cognitive benefits that go along with it, by learning how to manage the time between my heartbeats.
HeartMath is based on research in the new field of neurocardiology, the study of the hearts own nervous system, which means there are a lot of neurons in the heart, and the heart can learn and make decisions independently of any other brain I may have, and that I can access that heart intelligence and create a kind of whole body coherence which feels good and opens up the brain in the same way that the Positive Psychology folks are saying that positive emotions have a very useful impact on our lives
From Howard Martin at HeartMath;
"For the last eighteen years my colleagues and I at HeartMath have been exploring the power of the heart physically, emotionally and spiritually. The HeartMath organizations (for-profit and non-profit), founded by Doc Childre, have developed a system for personal and organizational development consisting of techniques, innovative and useful concepts, tools and technologies designed to utilize the power of the heart to improve performance, health and overall well-being while reducing stress. The entire system is underpinned with breakthrough scientific research on heart-brain communication and the many beneficial effects of experiencing positive emotions, like those long metaphorically associated with “heart”."
There is a link to the Heartmath program in the right column, if you want more information.
So it turns out that positive emotions are available frequently using HeartMath training, or meditative training, or exercise, or cognitive behavioral training, and if I choose to develop my HeartMath program, positive feelings can be had in a heart beat, and sustained heart beat by heart beat.
The HeartMath folks say that there is significant impact from the heart to the brain through a nerve path that runs from the heart to the higher perceptual centers of the brain.
So HeartMath has an impact on the brain, which is synergistic with brain fitness programs out there which impact neuroplasticity and neurogenesis.
In fact, Alvaro Fernandez, co-author with Elkhonen Goldberg,Ph.D.of The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness, mentions the emWave (from HeartMath) as one of the top five stress management tools.
So what are the best brain fitness programs to do with your HeartMath for positive emotions?
I have tried and recommend the following; Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro, the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program, and Lumosity.
If you are curious about this brain fitness phenomenon, then please read this book, Brainfit for Life written by Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D., both neuroscientists at the University of Michigan. They write about the pillars of brain fitness, which are physical exercise, nutrition, stress management, sleep, and novel learning experiences.
So it looks like there are some real parallels between the positive psychology research, the brain fitness research, neuroplasticity research, and the HeartMath discoveries.
The 'novel learning experience' that Evans and Burghardt, and Alvaro Fernandez address needs to be of a specific kind for the learning to be effective for increasing brain fitness. It is usually characterized as the kind of learning involved in learning a new musical instrument, or a new language, or using the computerized brain fitness programs.
I do not have time right now, for a new instrument or a new language, so I am going to do my HeartMath, and these three programs for a flow of positive emotions. (There is a link to the Heartmath program in the right column).
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.
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