Let’s get you out of sadness, depression, confusion, anger, guilt or whatever your emotional pain might be and back to happiness. Whether the challenge you are facing is about you or about your relationship, this is a great place to start – getting you experiencing more positive emotions to feel good now. We also want you feeling positive emotions to generate positive forward movement toward your transformation and the flourishing of others. Positive emotions are essential to optimal functioning. When your positive emotions are in short supply you get stuck, you feel the overwhelming effect of your negative feelings, and you can become hopeless. When your positive emotions are in ample supply you become resilient, creative, aware of possibility, and you take off into fulfilling more of your potential.
Positive Emotions Get Rid of Negativity and Get You Moving Forward
Barbara Frederickson’s Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions and research at the University of North Carolina suggest that positive emotions stimulate present time and future steps toward happiness and well-being:
- broaden people’s attention and thinking
- undo lingering negative emotions
- fuel psychological resilience
- build personal resources
- trigger upward spirals towards greater well-being
- seed human flourishing
The theory gives us an important prescriptive message. People should develop positive emotions in their own lives and in the lives of those around them, not just because doing so makes them feel good in the moment, but also because doing so transforms people for the better and sets them on paths toward flourishing and healthy longevity.
Barbara puts it this way:
Even though you experience positive emotions as exquisitely subtle and brief, such moments can ignite powerful forces of growth in your life. They do this first by opening you up: your outlook quite literally expands as you come under the influence of any of several positive emotions. With this momentarily broadened, more encompassing mindset, you become more flexible, attuned to others, creative, and wise. Over time, you also become more resourceful. In fact, my research and that of others shows that positive emotions can set off upward spirals in your life, self-sustaining trajectories of growth that lift you up to become a better version of yourself.
Let’s take a clear look at what you can do to experience positive emotions to move you forward and help you transform. The same way you choose to move from the chair to the sofa, you can change from where you are emotionally to more happiness. Positive emotions can be created through choices you make today. For example, right now you can smile. Try it… When you smile, it is difficult to feel negative. Smile again and again and let yourself feel a few positive feelings.
We can’t get you into bliss today or give you 24 hours of happiness. Positive emotions come and go, like the ebb and flow of the ocean waves. They don’t come and stay. They are momentary and they become the ground of your emotional landscape. There are many things you can do to get out of the ebb and get into the flow to improve your functioning.
Think Positive… Stop the Negative
Moving beyond smiling, let’s begin with examining how you think. If you want to feel happy, you have to start thinking more optimistically. When you train your brain to think more positive thoughts, you’re more likely to form positive habits, which then lead you to more positive results. Life is full of ups and downs and our emotions ebb and flow. It is easy to get stuck in a downward spiral of negative thinking and can be difficult to kick in the positive. When you are facing a crisis or having a tough time, the negative thinking rut is a hard one to get out of. However, all you have to do is change from a negative thought to a positive one, the same as changing from the chair to the sofa, and keep doing it.
Sometimes when you are having a bunch of negative thoughts it helps to see the familiar red Stop Sign and to say to yourself, “Stop!” Then do not respond to those thoughts or have a conversation with them. Simply follow your instructions to, “Stop.” Then think something positive. This thought interruption is designed to stop your limiting beliefs and move you into positive, productive thinking. We’ll get to the exercise in a couple paragraphs. First, let’s take a look at what is really wrong with your negative thoughts.
Don’t Trap Your Brain, Send the Blood to Your Neocortex
MRIs have shown that every time people think angry thoughts or imagine worst-case scenarios, they send a surge of blood flowing into the brain regions associated with depression and anger, which refuels their depression and anger in a destructive feedback loop. The sadder and angrier you become, the more your body gets flooded with “fight or flight” neurochemicals, which shut down the more evolved neocortex part of your brain. Basically, when you’re trapped in a negative fight-or-flight thought pattern, you’re limited to using only 20 percent of your brain’s thinking power. This is why during tough times you might find it very difficult to interpret events correctly, communicate feelings effectively, or think with a long-term optimistic lens.
Happily, MRIs have also shown that when people start to think happy thoughts, they send a surge of blood flowing into brain regions associated with happiness, widening their positive neural pathways and making it easier and more automatic for them to think better, calmer thoughts. If you keep focusing on happy thought replacements, it will become easier and easier for you to think more positively! And you will be creating more positive emotions of joy, interest, contentment, peace, and love.
EXERCISE: Exchange Affirmation for Negative Self Thought
Positive emotions are incompatible with negative emotions. When we go back to our Stop Sign, and your command to yourself, “Stop!” we want you to go right into a positive affirming statement about yourself. If you think that is too difficult, write down a list of positive statements to overrule the negative. When you might be thinking that you are a loser, that you can’t get a job although you have applied to at least 20, interrupt with, “Stop!” and the positive affirmation, ”I have an excellent education and many years of experience.” When you are thinking this is an awful gray rainy day, interrupt with, “Stop!” and the positive affirmation, “ This is a cozy change from our 300 days of sunshine,” or “Tomorrow the sun will be out again and I look forward to that!”
Positive affirmations can be about anything, but the more you make them the positive opposite of the negative statement or limiting belief, the more it will get you into positive thoughts and emotions. Some people go further into their negativity, unable to believe the positive. If this happens to you, do not add the positive to the exercise. Simply stop the thoughts and move on to other thinking. Practice this exercise until you have most of your 60,000 thoughts a day creating positive emotions. You can’t change the circumstances of your situation but you can change your interpretation of them and your response to them. That’s what we are trying to do in this exercise of having more positive thoughts and therefore more positive emotions.
Affirmations help us to develop a positive mindset which breaks down the barriers that negative thinking puts up in our day-to-day lives. Positive affirmations remind us of the joy of life and affect our subconscious mind to grow our capacity to create our own successes and mold our own reality.
EXERCISE: Affirmations or Positive Self Statements Make a list of improvements you would like to see in your life. Next, put this list in the form of positive statements, or affirmations about yourself. Make them all positive, in present time as if they are true. Make these basic positive beliefs things you think will reflect the best person you would like to be. “I am a good person.” “I deserve love.” “I am loveable.” “I am a calm person, free from worry.” I am generous in my thinking and actions.” “I’m a good wife/husband.” “I am doing my best.” “I am a good learner.” “I learn new ways of doing things.” “My commitment is deep; I am hanging in there.” “I am doing it!” “I am caring and kind.” “The situation is bad but I have the strength and skill to handle it.” “I have handled other things like this with success; I am doing this too.” “We have faced other stumbling blocks; we have the power and love to deal with this one.” “I am intelligent.” “I am creative.” “I am a great employee.” “I have good judgment.” “My business savvy is great.” “My sense about people is excellent.” There are an infinite number of positive beliefs available to you. Simply devote some time and energy to affirmation practice. Some people find that this pulls them further into negative thinking about themselves; if that is you, do not do the next step of the exercise.
Once you make a long list for yourself, go around thinking them all day. Select 3 to 5 a day to focus on. Say those like you believe them and practice until you do believe them. Some people like to say them out loud, like when they are running or driving the car. Others like saying them in front of a mirror to amplify dealing with the reality of positivity. You might be the type of person who prefers writing them daily and then reading from the card. Or you might just write them 50 times a day. I have had clients in my retreats say an affirmation and move a toothpick from one pile to another, until all 100 toothpicks are in the new pile. It is a yoga practice you might want to try.
In keeping with choosing positive thoughts, please complete your reading with a positive thought about this article. Then a positive thought about me (Thank You!) And finally, two positive thoughts about you!
Continue to train your brain to think positive thoughts which will create positive emotions, positive habits, and positive results. Then you can get your happiness back and transform your life with more authentic movement forward, success, and flourishing well-being.