I love psychology. I minored in it in college and for a while seriously considered becoming a psychiatrist because of my desire to learn about the mind. When I first heard about the pioneering work of psychologist Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, I wanted to get on a plane, find him, and embrace him. He has devoted his career to studying uplifting traits such as optimism, peace of mind, and happiness, which help us navigate life without mental and emotional impairment.
Superhealing & Positive Emotions
Establishing a positive emotional state is one of the foundations of superhealing, for it aligns the mind with the true nature of the spirit. “Cheerfulness is the best promoter of health,” said Joseph Addison, “and is as friendly to the mind as to the body.” The field of positive psychology studies how to create conditions for peak performance and emotional resilience. From time immemorial we’ve known that positive emotions are antidotes to problems associated with negative emotions. The approach of positive psychology is to understand the underlying mechanisms of coping and uplifting.
Whenever we talk about positive and negative feelings, there are bound to be a lot of misconceptions. So I want to emphasize that it is important to be authentic about your feelings: don’t suppress or deny negative emotions, but don’t dwell on them or get stuck in feeling bad. If you’re feeling down, acknowledge it and work on generating a better feeling. Focus on the good. Just this one step can improve your quality of life and health. It is important to move in the direction of positive thinking because of the clear-cut physiological and psychological advantages, especially in the long run.
Realistic vs Unrealistic Optimism
I’ve often heard the argument that optimistic people are acting like Pollyanna, a rather saccharine young orphan in a novel of the same name who had learned from her father, since deceased, to find something to appreciate in every situation. Some people view optimism as unrealistic and even delusional. Isn't it interesting that realism is perceived as synonymous with negativity or unhappiness, whereas a positive outlook is believed to be unreal?
Whether positive thinking is good for you largely has to do with the intentions you are expressing. If you are in denial or suppressing your feelings, you are not being honest with yourself. Until you resolve the issues that your negative emotions are signaling require your attention, being superficially positive will not serve you.
Rewire Your Brain with Positive Emotions
Your highly adaptive brain cells have the ability to develop new neural networks. Even if you are a pessimist or locked in the throes of chronic stress, by working every day to change the tone of your thoughts and emotions, you can improve your health and well-being. You can train your mind to be optimistic and also to identify the patterns of thought that lead you to feel stress so you can interrupt them.
One of the most powerful beliefs you can develop is an underlying conviction of your ability to successfully manage situations that you perceive as stressful or threatening. Positive beliefs like this will enable you to transcend negative experiences.
Health and Psychological Benefits of Positive Emotions
Positive emotions are also associated with greater longevity among people with heart disease and kidney disease. Also, in the face of HIV/AIDS, a positive outlook can lead to measurable improvement of the condition.
Positive emotions enhance our well-being. The emerging research indicates that finding ways to cultivate positive emotions is crucial to creating optimal physical and psychological well-being. By their very nature, positive emotions are expansive, and I believe they are so because they are not only in harmony with but also reflective of our true spiritual nature. I believe that stress comes from our failure to perceive ourselves as we truly are: remarkable, extraordinary, intelligent beings with the internal resources to overcome even the most difficult circumstances and experiences.
Positive Emotions & the Stress Response
We now know that very positive emotions interrupt the stress response. When we perceive ourselves as being in control of our situation, this helps the brain to determine whether a situation should be viewed as a threat or a challenge. Such determinations are the primary drivers of our response to stress. Feeling a lack of control, uncertainty, and unpredictability stimulates the release of cortisol, a stress hormone.
Positive emotions broaden our thinking and enhance our mental flexibility and coping skills. Even temporary experiences of positive emotions can have lasting consequences. They give us a solid foundation upon which to allow the birth of new internal resources that will support our well-being on an ongoing basis. They also counteract the brain’s innate tendency to engage in negativity, thus promoting internal balance, lowering the body’s stress response, helping us recover from stress more rapidly, and granting greater functioning after stress.
Having a grim or pessimistic view of the future, which means having an expectation of negative results or fewer positive results, has been shown to lead to earlier death and a more rapid progression of the diseases of aging, probably in part because of faster telomere shortening.46 Being optimistic and expecting good things to happen relates to better health. Positive emotions help us to develop hardiness and resilience (the ability to transcend our challenges) when they are firmly grounded by self-awareness and acceptance. They allow us to not only survive but thrive.
The Positivity Factor:
Dr. Barbara Fredrickson is one of my favorite researchers. What she discovered and teaches has made her a luminary in psychology and beyond. Her research found how experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio to negative emotions leads people to achieve what they once could only imagine. Far from frivolous, tapping into one’s own unique sources of positivity is a wise and healthy investment in the future.
In her book Positivity, Dr. Fredrickson reveals how the stunning new scientific discoveries about this powerful – though undervalued – state of mind can enhance your relationships, improve your health, relieve depression, and broaden your mind.
Experience positivity for yourself and make a lasting difference in the way you live.
Here’s a link to test your positivity ratio:
Superhealing: Engaging Your Mind, Body and Spirit to Create Optimal Health and Well-Being