More positive feelings more often. Is that not the American way? I know I have done my fair share of seeking positive feelings. My positive feelings behavior was predicated on an assumption that I was supposed to feel good all the time, and that assumption is not accurate.
I know that I feel good after a workout or when a day's schedule is completed, and there are random moments of appreciation for nature's beauty, or moments of love for my kids or wife which are sublime, but they are random.
And then I began to discover that positive feelings, while transitory, can be had frequently if I was willing to take care of a number of free things, like my brain fitness, my health, my breathing, my thinking, my nutrition, my sleep, my stress management.
In fact, the best positive technique of all is deep breathing, and if you are like me, you will nod sagely, and go back to breathing very shallow in your chest, which actually promotes a stressful hormonal bath and a feeling of anxiety.
So go take about 10 deep breaths, breathing through your heart, while you remember a positive fun time, and then ask your heart what would be a less stressful way to handle this situation in the future.
The technique above is called the Freeze Framer, and it is from the HeartMath folks, and you will find more on HeartMath below, and how HeartMath can help make positive feelings a more regular occurence.
Positive Feelings from Positive Psychology
Even though I am a domestic violence educator, and work a lot with feelings in my groups, I was unaware until just recently that positive feelings had not been the object of scientific inquiry.
I know that I have found some tools that help me experience positive feelings, I did not have a sense of how positive feelings work in the larger scope of human experience, until I came across the work of Barbara Frederickson, and her Broaden and Build Theory.
From Jeff Froh,
"Positive emotions are brief experiences that feel good in the present and increase the chances that one will feel good in the future. They seem to be essential ingredients to the recipe of living the good life. Understanding positive emotions is a core objective of positive psychology.
The study of emotions in psychology is relatively recent, with emotions only being the subject of sustained empirical scrutiny since around the 1960’s. Even then, the empirical focus was almost always—and almost always exclusively—on negative emotions. Groundbreaking researchers, including first Alice Isen and subsequently Barbara Fredrickson, started to give systematic attention to positive emotions from the 1980’s onwards, and there is now a growing body of evidence to support their occurrence and implications. There is, however, consistent evidence that people generally have a bias toward attending to the negative, which may in large part account for the absence of research into positive emotions until the last 20 years or so.
Neglecting Positive Emotions
There is a general bias to give more weight to negative entities (e.g., emotions and personal traits) compared with positive entities. Generally, negative events and information seem to command more attention over positive ones. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Someone who misses a positive outcome may later experience regret for not experiencing pleasure or growth, but they’ll survive. In comparison, someone who fails to notice danger may suffer the ultimate negative outcome—death.
Baumeister and colleagues argue that bad is stronger than good across many psychological phenomena. For example, bad impressions and stereotypes form quicker and are more difficult to alter compared with good ones. People get more upset over losing $50 than they are happy winning $50. Bad events influence both good and bad moods, whereas good events only influence good moods. Having a good day will unlikely influence someone’s next day, but having a bad day will likely influence someone’s next day—for the worse. Numerous types of trauma, even if it’s a sole occurrence, can have severe and lasting negative effects on behavior, but research doesn’t support the idea that a sole positive event can have similarly strong and lasting effects. For example, being sexually abused once can have long-term deleterious effects. One experience of sexual bliss has not been shown to predict comparable long-term positive effects. 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."
The Practice of Positive Feelings
While positive feelings are short, they do not have to be random.
With a bit of practice, I can schedule positive feelings, say every five minutes if I want to, and then have my positive thought that leads to my positive feeling, which broadens and builds my behavioral options, as Frederickson would say.
My journey to routine positive feelings has helped my find some very valuable tools.
The first tool that I came across in this regard was the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" which I was to use whenever I found myself feeling resentful about the current events in my life, and I discovered very quickly that being thankful for second chances felt a lot better than ruminating about how someone had 'screwed' me.
I preferred to feel good, and then I had increased opportunities to earn the things that I wanted.
I still use gratitude thoughts as antidotes to fear and anxiety thoughts, and some days I may repeat that change the thought to change the feeling behavior many times.
I have used many tools over the years to help me have positive feelings, although I must admit that I have been seeking longer periods of positive feelings than most.
The most helpful tool of all is a biofeedback tool with a huge upside called HeartMath, which is a computerized program which trains me to manage the time between heart beats and establish heart rate variability coherence.
Heart rate variability coherence feels good, and has tremendous health and brain fitness upside, it is easy to learn, and once I learn it, it can become a lifestyle tool, for heart beat by heart beat good feelings.
As folks work with HeartMath, the feedback on the computer screen always amazes them.
Rarely do folks get a chance to see how quickly their physiology changes when they change what they are thinking about as they do using a computerized tool like HeartMath, and they are equally as amazed to see their physiology return to coherence when they change the thought back to a HeartMath kind of cue thought.
Folks are also amazed as they begin to create longer and longer periods of coherence.
As clients become more proficient at HeartMath, in other words their heart learns that it is to create a coherent physiology when you ask it to, then longer feelings of coherence, or quiet contentment are available, as are moments of bliss associated with opening your heart.
Your heart's intelligence is affiliative and cooperative, by the way, which gives you the benefit of two kinds of intelligence to bring to any decision you need to make.
Positive Feelings and Brain Fitness
What is the connection between HeartMath and your brain and positive feelings?
It turns out that the heart communicates a great amount of information to the brain, even opens higher perceptual centers in the brain, which means that I can enhance two recently discovered capacities of the brain called neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, all in the name of positive feelings.
Neuroplasticity is the brains efforts to build new connections between neurons, which happens when I challenge the brain with novel learning experiences. The brain will actually dismantle connections if they are not routinely challenged. The more connections I have the better I am able to withstand Alzheimers disease.
Neurogenesis is the word used to describe the daily birth of new neurons which migrate to the memory centers of the brain if we challenge them.
Are you curious about this brain fitness phenomenon? Read Brainfit for Life by Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D., neuroscientists at the University of Michigan, who write in for the lay person about the pillars of brain fitness, which are physical exercise, nutrition, including omega 3 fatty acid, sleep, stress management, and novel learning experiences, which might include computerized learning programs like Lumosity, or Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro.
The most important pillar for your brain fitness (and your heart's fitness) is physical exercise.
In fact, physical activity, like walking, if it induces some deep breathing, can be just what the doctor ordered for positive feelings, cardiac health, and brain fitness.
If you are not interested in joining a gym and tossing around big barbells, or even little ones, then take a look at this program, put together by Scott and Angie Tousignant which is perfectly suited for your basement utility room, to be done in 10 minute increments, by both you and your spouse.
Another writer in the brain fitness arena, Alvaro Fernendez, of SharpBrains, says the the HeartMath emWave is one of the top five stress management tools available.
When it comes to the other pillars of brain fitness, please consult Brainfit for Life I want to introduce you to three of the computerized brain fitness programs that you can use in conjunction with your HeartMath training to enhance your neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.
The brain fitness folks say that the kind of learning that our brain needs for its best fitness is the kind involved in learning an new language or a new instrument.
I do not have that kind of time, so I have tried and recommend the following three brain fitness programs. The Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro increases IQ. Are you ever too old for more IQ? Just be sure to couple it with emotional intelligence, which means heart intelligence.
Would You Share Something That You Are Grateful For?
When I was beginning my personal growth journey, a wise person told me that when I was feeling resentful or afraid or sad, that I should remember the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was ready to feel better. That phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.