Reap The Benefits Of Positive Emotions

There are a number of benefits inherent in having a positive outlook, including being healthier, having more energy, recovering quickly from adversity, having deeper social ties, and others. While a portion of your natural positive or negative inclination is immutable, you do have the ability to influence a large chunk – up to 40% – of your positivity. Engage positive emotions and reap the benefits.

The Weight Of Water

A psychology professor stood in front of her class and picked up a glass of water. The professor asked, “How heavy is this glass of water I’m holding?”

The students shouted out several answers, ranging from a few ounces to a couple of pounds.

The professor replied, “From my perspective, the weight of the glass depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute or two, it’s quite light. If I hold it for an hour, the weight might make my arm ache a bit. But if I hold it for an entire day, the weight will make my arm cramp and feel numb – and eventually I’d drop the glass, which would break on the floor.”

She continued, “In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it feels to me.”

As the class nodded in agreement, the professor said, “Your stresses and worries in life are much like this glass of water. Hold them for a little while and not much happens. But hold them for a bit longer and you begin to ache. And hold them, think about them, all day long and you’ll become completely numb and paralyzed — incapable of doing anything else until you drop them.” [1]

A Bias For Negativity

We all have stresses and worries in our lives, but as the professor in the story explains, holding on to them, ruminating over them, is not helpful. Hold them long enough and they can be destructive.

Many researchers report that we have evolved with a bias toward negativity. [Seligman] For much of our ancient past, being worried and watchful, being fearful and cautious, kept our ancestors alive long enough to reproduce and pass along their genetic traits. Consequently, a large part of our positivity and negativity is in our genetic makeup — about 50%, in fact. [Lyubomirsky] This makes it difficult to “set down the glass”.

Fortunately, although a large portion of our negative thinking is ingrained, there are ways we can increase our positivity and reverse some of the ill effects of too much negative influence.

Why be happy?

Does broadening your outlook and seeing the big picture sound encouraging?
Then engage positive emotions.

Does becoming emotionally stronger and wiser sound enticing?
Engage positive emotions.

Does strengthening your resilience and being able to bounce back higher and quicker when you encounter a setback sound exciting?
Engage positive emotions.

Does setting down you own particular glass of worry, frustration and stress sound comforting?
Engage positive emotions. [Fredrickson]

Benefits Of Positivity

Barbara Fredrickson and Sonja Lyubomirsky are two of the leading scholars in the field of positive psychology. Dr. Fredrickson is Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology and the principle investigator of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Dr. Lyubomirsky is Distinguished Professor and Vice Chair of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside.

Both of these researchers have articulated a number of benefits that accrue to those who focus on being more positive. This is NOT positive thinking. It’s more like positive doing.

These are a few of the benefits:

Becoming a happier, more positive person changes how your mind works – it widens your perspective so you see more possibilities. You become more flexible in your thinking. It helps you be resilient and allows you to bounce back more quickly from disappointments and difficulties. [Fredrickson]

Happier, more positive people have more energy and more friends. They are more productive, better leaders and tend to make more money. They have stronger immune systems and are physically healthier. [Lyubomirsky]

Can you see how engaging positive emotions could have an overall favorable effect on your life?

Components Of Positivity

As we have discussed before, three factors contribute to your overall happiness or positivity level.

About 50% of your overall happiness is determined by your “set point” or genetic tendency to be negative or positive. [Seligman] This is beyond our ability to change. Serendipitous events can raise or lower this set point temporarily but these are not under our control and we resume our set point level pretty quickly.

Another 10% is determined by our life circumstances, such as health, wealth, marital status, social standing, etc. [Seligman] We do have some ability to influence these factors, but it is usually difficult and 10% won’t make much difference.

This leaves the important 40 percent. This is under our direct control. [Seligman] Research has identified a number of specific activities we can perform that have a direct impact on our positivity levels. And unlike changes to our set point, which are temporary, these activities can have a long-term impact. [Seligman]

How To Use The 40 Percent

In The How Of Happiness, Sonja Lyuobomirsky identifies twelve “Happiness Activities” that can have an uplifting effect on the 40% of the positivity that is under our direct control.

These areas include:

  1. expressing gratitude,
  2. cultivating optimism,
  3. avoiding overthinking,
  4. practicing acts of kindness,
  5. nurturing social relationships,
  6. developing strategies for coping,
  7. learning to forgive,
  8. increasing flow experiences,
  9. savoring life’s joys,
  10. committing to your goals,
  11. practicing religion and spirituality, and
  12. taking care of your body.
    [Lyuobomirsky]

The Happiness Hundred is a compilation of 100 activities you can do right now to increase your positivity and feelings of happiness. The exercises are grouped into the 12 areas articulated by Lyubomirsky.

Actions

  1. Look over the areas from Sonja Lyuobmirsky’s 12 Happiness Activities and select one that appeals to you right now. (Alternately, two areas that have been shown to be the most effective are expressing gratitude and doing acts of kindness. If you have trouble selecting, start with one of these.)
  2. Examine the 8 or 9 practices for the area you selected. Pick one or two that appeal to you.
  3. Do the activity.
  4. Practice the activity for a week. At the end of the week, decide if you want to continue your current practice or to select a different activity.
  5. Continue, selecting different practices as you go.

Set Down The Glass

“Most people mistakenly believe that happiness is the absence of a load. We want life to be easy, without challenge or difficulty.” [Hardy] This is not the kind of happiness we are striving for. In fact, some of the exercises that build positivity are not particularly easy or enjoyable in themselves. It is the payoff in increased positivity and the long-term effects that we are after, not a quick and shallow “happy” feeling.

Pick one or a few of the exercises from The Happiness Hundred and begin doing them regularly, as outlined in the Action steps above. Observe your positivity levels and your ability to deal with life’s daily stresses and see them rise and improve.

This helps you “set down the glass” of stressors and worries that you are carrying, at least for a while. Engage positive emotions to recover your strength and equanimity. That is embracing the Excelerated Life™!


Excelerated Positivity™ — building the skills in positivity that help you flourish — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing, of well-being, meaning, and purpose.

Read more about the Excelerated Life™.


Footnotes:

[1] adapted from Marc Chernoff (See Resources.)

Resources:

Chernoff, Marc. “4 Short Stories That Will Change The Way You Think.” Marc & Angel Hack Life. Marc & Angel Hack Life,,. Web. 20 January 2020.
https://www.marcandangel.com/2013/05/21/4-short-stories-change-the-way-you-think/

Fredrickson, Ph.D., Barbara, L. Positivity. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2009

Hardy, Benjamin. Willpower Doesn’t Work. New York: Hatchette Book Group, Inc, 2018

Lyubomirsky, Sonja. The How Of Happiness. New York: Penquin Books, 2007

Seligman, Ph.D., Martin E. P. Authentic Happiness. New York: Free Press, 2002


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