This is the third in a series on positive emotions, and without sounding like a contradiction of the earlier two posts, let me introduce a reframing of an idea that hopefully, while not revolutionary, may produce a different perspective on the world.
The idea of positive emotions may be misleading with the general populace hijacking the word “positive” and it also somehow evolving into a clichéd beast of its own. The definition of this word is a good starting point for therapy. With my clients and even my students, we explore the notion of positive as being affirmative or helpful for oneself, to reiterate that we are not necessarily encouraging a false smiley front of happiness and rejection of less-than-positive feelings and states. When this topic comes up, most, if not all, will subtly nod as the notion resonates with them and what they had felt in past interactions.
The idea of embracing all aspects of our emotional selves could not have been made clearer than through the computer-animated movie Inside Out; in exploring emotions in sessions, burly male clients have admitted to shedding a tear or two while watching this movie. That might say a lot to how often we might have been told to suck it up and hold back the tears when we were little tabula rasas. The seed of rejecting or repressing emotions would have been planted at an early age.
Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.
— Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis
A suggestion here for our mental health betterment is to avoid discriminating the emotions that arise: not to rebuff so-called negative feelings or treat them with bias. Notwithstanding this call for acceptance of all emotions (and let me steer away from the easily misconstruable labels of “positive” and “negative” here for this purpose), there are little, simple actions that can create opportunities for us to be met with frequent spontaneous moments of healthy, constructive feelings. The main point is, “positive” does not mean happy in any dictionary. A huge part of cultivating and maintaining mental health (as with physical stamina) is to not self-sabotage by depriving yourself a fair chance at feeling good about yourself. By telling yourself to be positive = happy when you are not, that is part of the self-sabotage.
This post, a continuation of the first part last month that gave suggestions on how to call forth five adaptive, affirmative emotions, is really about another five healthy, helpful emotions to add to your current repertoire to enhance and facilitate your mental and emotional health. The following infographic outlines an easy day-by-day observation/reflection to get these emotional experiences flowing.
There is certainly more to “positive” than happy.
Starting off with hope, sometimes it surprises people to know that, more than any other variable, it is the lack of hope (hopelessness) that has been found to be highly correlated with suicidal thought. When you conceive of hope as a belief and yearning that things can be better, it becomes easier to understand how this emotion acts as a driving force and also builds up our resilience to bounce back from setbacks. And what is a doable, practicable way to cultivate hope? Through expressions of gratitude and mindfulness.
Inspiration may be sparked within us in varied ways. Being touched by the goodness of the human heart and its well-intentions; witnessing a fight for survival against all odds; admiring the aesthetic fragility of art and creativity. In a way, inspiration is there around us, any context, any moment. For some people, reading about how young people in the U.S. are taking action against gun violence at this very moment (the march is tomorrow, at the time of writing) may inspire the urge to strive and excel in our own ways. Perhaps ask yourself, what might bring this emotion into your life?
To quote Fredrickson, joy emerges when our current circumstances present unexpected good fortune. Using this simple, succinct definition, think back to your daily routine over the last week. There is bound to be pockets of joy hidden in the mass of mundanity. How about when temperatures in Seoul finally hit 20 degrees Celsius last week? Never mind the drastic dip again a few days later. That afternoon when you were walking about, caressed by a gentle sun and released from the shackles of padded coats and layered Heattech, now that was joy.
Serenity is an interesting one. A client, a young teen with a razor-sharp mind, recently sagely quipped that serenity sits on a spectrum that includes calm (the neutral point) and boredom (a negative calm where the mind is restless). Think back to an occasion where you were serene. Was that a feeling of contented calm, a satisfied point of peace where your physical self was evenly balanced by your internal state?
Love is the last item for a reason. It springs up when the other nine emotions on these two infographics occur in the context of a social, interpersonal connection or bond, and this is not restricted to the sense of romance. Love extends to nurturant love (e.g., parent-child) as well as companionate love. Fredrickson postulates that we share positive resonance when experiencing love, and this spurs motivational changes, in addition to promoting more “broadening and building.”
Start putting your self-care and yourself as no. 1 on your priority list. Five emotions a week over seven days, not too tough, right?