It will likely come as no surprise to you – especially if you’re a parent – that we begin expressing our emotions from the day we are born.
Of course as infants we lack understanding about why we feel the way we do, and our responses are generally limited to such things as facial expressions, noises ranging from a sweet coo to 4-alarm screaming, and a few key bodily functions. Still, ever determined, we use whatever means is at our disposal to respond to the urge to communicate our feelings and emotions at every opportunity.
As we continue to grow we develop self awareness and improve our ability to identify and convey our emotions in words and actions. However, awareness alone does not provide us with the tools we need to effectively manage or direct our emotions.
I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them. ~Oscar Wilde
For example, have you ever struggled to control your reaction to something hurtful or offensive someone has said to you? You tell yourself to just let it go – but your feelings are hurt, and maybe you’re a little angry – so not only can’t you let go, you begin experiencing mental reruns where you keep playing the conversation over and over, as though this will somehow enable you to conjure up a better outcome.
There are a variety of ways you can overcome such ineffective responses, but rather than focusing your energy on fixing disruptive or negative emotions, wouldn’t it be better to learn how to avoid being bothered by such experiences at all?
The Surprising Long Term Benefits of Positive Emotions
I’m going to challenge you to look at the notion of positive emotions from a different perspective. Rather than resorting to typical short term pleasures (like consuming that pint of Chunky Monkey in the freezer) to help you feel good and boost your mood for the moment, consider the long-term benefits you might enjoy from building a reserve of positive emotions. This reserve would then serve as a buffer against the effects of stress and adversity, while strengthening your long term emotional resilience.
Over the past decade researchers have found some stunning correlations between expressing more positive emotions, resilience and living longer. ~Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, Psychological Resilience and Positive Emotions
Research has repeatedly shown that people who proactively increase experiences of positive emotions develop a greater sense of meaning and purpose in their life.
Consider the accounts you’ve read of those who have exhibited extreme resilience by surviving traumatic situations and how they so often focus on all that they’ve gained from the experience rather than what they have lost. Many of these same survivors go on to create opportunities to help others through similar adverse situations, adding further to their sense of positivity and purpose in life.
Positive Emotions Grow From Daily Experiences
It may be helpful to think of cultivating positive emotions as being similar to the process of building a muscle, because it’s less about mastering a particular set of skills than developing and broadening your capacity for positivity.
Practicing daily mindfulness, relaxation techniques and fostering a sense of humor are a just few effective strategies you can use. Following are a few more examples to inspire you.
- Express Gratitude: Keeping an ongoing list of things you’re grateful for has many benefits, but to reap the full positive emotion rewards of gratitude I’m going to suggest you also look for ways to express your thankfulness out loud. Smile and say thank you more often, if someone lends a hand – even if they’re not consciously aware of how much they helped you, reach out and communicate your appreciation.
- Focus on Human Kindness: For better or worse, bad news attracts readers. If you feel you must keep up with the news great, but try to balance the bad news with the good. Collect stories of everyday heroes and examples of kindness, love and generosity in the world.Better yet, go out and create stories of your own by lending a helping hand to a friend or neighbor, try volunteering or getting involved in a community project. I’ve chaired 3 county food drives so I can tell you from firsthand experience, there is nothing that will lift your spirits and foster a sense of purpose more effectively than knowing you’ve made a positive difference in the life of someone in need.
- Build a Collection of Positive Emotion Boosters: Collect things that remind you of positive emotional moments in your life. For example photos or souvenirs of particularly good experiences, mementos from special people in your life, awards that remind you of accomplishments, favorite inspirational quotations, affirmations or mood lifting music.
These are just a few simple but effective ways to begin building your reserve of positive emotions. Fortunately anyone can learn to do this; all it requires is commitment along with a little planning and consistent, proactive practice.
Marquita Herald is an author, resilience coach, publisher, write and creator of the Emotionally Resilient Living website, world traveler, Maui girl, Introvert and lover of wine, road trips, peanut butter cookies and a dog named Lucy. She makes her home in rural Maui and her professional experience includes 20 years traveling the world on behalf of the Hawaii tourism industry, followed by a decade of as an award winning life and small business coach.