On a recent drive to work I listened to an amazing podcast by Michelle Mcquaid on positive leadership. In the program she described a new theory of Well-Being developed by positive psychologist Martin Seligman called PERMA that includes five elements essential to human well-being:
Of all of the elements, the power of positive emotion struck me. According to Mcquaid, positive emotions -- like awe, love, happiness, joy, excitement, enthusiasm, contentment, and gratitude -- have an impact that goes beyond bringing a smile to our faces. Positive emotions can help us perform better at work and help strengthen our relationships. These emotions stimulate the release of dopamine and serotonin, broaden our scope of attention and make us feel safe. They inspire cooperation, collaboration, creativity and the ability to look to the future with optimism and hope. Longitudinal studies have also shown that positive emotions are associated with increased longevity, can buffer stress and help aid pain management.
So…how can we experience more of these potent positive emotions? This is a question I occasionally ask myself since I find it easy to get lost in my mind focusing on the negative: the what if's, regrets, losses, and injustice. Part of this is habit, but part of it is due to our evolved "negativity bias", according to Dr. Rick Hanson. It helped our ancient ancestors survive -- ever on the lookout for the saber-toothed tiger and remembering which plants were toxic--, but can pose obstacles while trying to find the silver lining. So...the real question is how can we counteract our evolved negativity bias?
The moral of the story is that if we want to experience more positive emotions we need to practice some kind of regular mental and emotional exercise. Counteracting the brain’s negative bias is not a passive process. All that said, I do not write this to discount those of us who frequently experience negative emotions. Evidence that shows that a healthy balance of both is important in life. However, positive emotions are worth cultivating. I think that whatever emotions we feel, we should not try to suppress them, feel guilty or ashamed. We should feel them completely, try to trace their origins and choose action: accept them, move forward, seek support and acknowledge the complexity of life. Then, go find that list of the things that you enjoy and do something pleasurable!
Hello and welcome! My name is Andrea Notch Mayzeles. I am a Certified Health Education Specialist, Mom, and Master of Public Health dedicated to the path of well-being. As a wellness professional I am committed to continued learning and am here to share research, recipes and musings on health, psychology, personal development, and parenting. I hope you enjoy!