Action 26

I deliberately get active and (purposefully, intentionally, playfully) engage in pleasant activities that enhance my positive emotions and make me feel good (feelings of engagement, of interest, enthusiasm, joy, happiness, love, contentment, awe, curiosity, optimism, vitality, fulfillment, sense of mastery and self-confidence, pride, empathy, compassion, forgiveness and gratitude).

Useful Information

Repetitive experience of positive emotions can change the structure and function of the brain. More specifically, positive emotions can:

  1. Dismantle or undo the effects of negative emotions and traumatic experiences.
  2. Broaden visual attention, open individuals to new experiences and improve problem-solving abilities.
  3. Propel a positive mindset of flexible thinking and trigger an upward emotional and behavioral spiral.
  4. Ward off depression and reverse a downward negative emotional spiral of bad feelings rumination, worry, avoidance, withdrawal that becomes self-perpetuating.
  5. Decrease threat appraisal and hyper vigilance.
  6. Increase a sense of “oneness” with others and increase interpersonal trust.
  7. Build and broaden coping skills and act as a buffer or bulwark against stressors in life.
  8. Put things into perspective.
  9. Tip the balance of the ratio of positive to negative feelings, thus opening up to new possibilities for change.

How To: Steps to Increase Positive Emotions

  1. Ways to intentionally self-generate positive emotions:
    • Get involved in enjoyable activities. Remember that the word “recreation” is a “re-creation” and can contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
    • Increase pleasurable activities (hobbies, activities with loved ones and friends). Do something fun and engaging. Make the choice to be happy.
    • Emerge yourself in pleasurable aesthetic activities such as reading, music, art, enjoying nature (sunrises, sunsets), walks and the like. “Feed your soul!”
    • Anticipate and envision experiencing positive emotions.
    • Stretch yourself beyond previously established limits. Seek out and be open to new experiences. Develop new interests and look for new possibilities in life. Follow your curiosity.
    • Have hope which is the ability to produce pathways to attain goals. Engage in pathways thinking of positive courses of action.
    • Meaningfully engage with others on pleasurable activities. Savor joy. Increase social and emotional communication.
    • Repeat experiences that trigger positive emotions so they can become self-perpetuating “upward spirals.” Capitalize on success.
  2. Tip the balance of Positive to Negative Emotions to a 3 to 1 Ratio: 3 Positive to 1 Negative Emotion.
    • Employ positive mental imagery of past, present and future activities.
    • Recall positive past experiences and memories (go through picture albums with someone).
    • Reappraise past events. Look for the “silver lining.” (Benefit finding and benefit remembering).
    • Focus on being in the present moment using mindfulness meditation which is a way to self-regulate your attention. In a non-evaluative manner attend to moment-by-moment experiences without fixating on thoughts of the past, nor the future. Positive emotions flow from the nonjudgmental focus on the present. Stay in the now. (See Action #41 for ways to conduct Mindfulness Activities).
    • Use acceptance strategies by changing my relationship with my thoughts. View my thoughts just as thoughts and not as directives or commandments to act or as truthful accounts. Come to accept my thoughts, memories and emotions without trying to needlessly change or alter them.
    • Engage in a “compassion” or “‘lovingkindness” meditation and contemplation that reflects a warm and caring feeling toward self and others. (See Item 95 for ways to engage in compassion activities).
    • Do something soothing and relaxing (See Action #41 for ways to engage in relaxation and Tactical Breathing exercises).
    • Keep things in perspective. Remember my long-term goals and values.
    • Keep in mind that having fewer than 3-to-1 desirable-to-undesirable emotions is harmful for well-being. It is also harmful to have more than about 11-to-1 desirable-to-undesirable emotions. Balance is the key to the development and maintenance of resilience and well-being.

Quotable Quotes

As experts John Briere and Catherine Scott in trauma therapy observe:

“The implication is not that someone is ‘lucky’ when bad things happen, but rather, that not all outcomes associated with adversity are inevitably negative. The message is not that one should ‘look on the bright side’, which can be easily seen as dismissive and unempathetic. Instead, we suggest the survivor’s life although irrevocably changed, is not over, and that in the future good things are possible.”

(Briere & Scott, 2006)

Action 27