Can positive emotions actually “undo” the effects of negative emotions? It turns out they can. Researcher Barbara Fredrickson has found that experiencing a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative emotions can actually make physical changes in your body and broaden your mindset to create more personal resilience.
The effects of negative emotions
Negative emotions such as fear and anger are useful in that they pump up your cardiovascular system to prepare you to either get away from or fight a threat to your well-being. The problem is, the increased heart rate, blood pressure, and shallow breathing continue long after the threat is gone and create other physical problems for you.
Another useful aspect of negative emotions is that they narrow your focus to the threat at hand so you can make a decision as to what to do. However, the downside is that continued negative emotions leave you in a very limited frame of mind, one that does not allow for the creativity and growth needed to live a satisfied and resilient life.
The “undoing” effect of positive emotions
Positive emotions such as love, joy, and interest allow the cardiovascular system to relax and, as it turns out, experiencing three times as many positive emotions as negative actually “undoes” the lingering cardiovascular restrictions caused by your negative emotions.
Similarly, positive feelings create an emotional space that allows you to broaden your attention and utilize your creativity to not only enjoy life more but also stock up on emotional and social resources that help you later when you face adversity.
So, how can you go about getting more positive feelings in your life? Here are some ideas:
1. Notice positive moments.
Researchers Susan Folkman and Judith Moskowitz from UC San Francisco suggest that you take “psychological time-outs” by noticing the beautiful smile of a person walking by you, reflecting on a compliment someone gave you, or pausing to enjoy a beautiful sunset. Don’t let those wonderful little moments pass you by without taking a moment to appreciate them.
2. Practice mindfulness meditation.
Sit quietly, with your eyes closed, even for a few minutes. Focus on your breath and, as you notice your mind being active with thoughts, just allow those thoughts to float away like bubbles. And don’t judge either yourself or the thoughts passing through your mind. That’s the key to mindfulness meditation – lack of self-judgment. As you learn to be less judgmental toward yourself, you create more space for positive feelings about yourself and the world.
3. Practice random acts of kindness.
Helping others makes them feel good and increases your positivity, too.
Takeaway points: Positive emotions can help “undo” the effects of negative feelings, especially if your day is filled with three times more good stuff than negative stuff. Make a habit of looking for the good and positive experiences all around you.
What’s your favorite way of creating positive emotions?