Let's begin with a couple of questions. What emotion surges in you when you look at this image? How does it make you feel?
That wonderful feeling that you experience as you look at the picture is one of the positive emotions that have been investigated extensively by Professor Barbara Fredrickson, one of the world's leading voices on emotional positivity. In Seligman’s new Well-Being Theory, positive emotion remains as an element in leading a flourishing life along with engagement, relationship, meaning and accomplishment.
What is positivity?
In her groundbreaking book Positivity; Fredrickson describes 10 forms of positivity. These have been chosen because they are the targets of a growing amount of scientific research and they color people's day-to-day lives the most. I am so thrilled to discover this outstanding book not only because it lends scientific support to the coping strategies that I had used in managing my illness but it offers a whole new way of looking at the astonishing potential of positivity in one's life.
Let's look at the ten forms of positivity:
Triggers: You experience it when you are in a safe and familiar surrounding; things are going your way or even exceed your expectation. Joy feels bright and light. Your face lights up with a smile and inner glow.
Examples: The moment you first held your newborn. A surprise birthday.
Triggers: You experience it when you receive kindness from another. Gratitude opens your heart and carries the urge to reciprocate. It comes when we appreciate something that has come our way as a gift to be cherished.
Examples: Surviving a complex and delicate surgery. Being in a peaceful country. Having a job. Breathing clean air.
Triggers: Like joy, it surfaces when your surroundings are safe and familiar. It prompts you to let out a sigh of contentment that says, "ah! life is good!" You want to sit back, savor and absorb everything in.
Examples: Curling up with your cat. Going for a stroll on the beach.
Triggers: Happens when you are learning a new skill, meet a new person or being in a new place or country. It draws your attention, you become fascinated and curious to explore more. You feel open, energized and alive. Your boundary is enlarged.
Examples: Watching a beautiful documentary. Learning how to ski or cook.
Triggers: Arises when your circumstances are not favorable. It is absent when everything is going brilliantly in your life. Within the core of hope is the belief that things can change and improve. It motivates you to tap into your own capabilities and resourcefulness to turns things around.
Example: Hope and optimism definitely kept me going when the going was so painful and challenging. Without hope, I would not have the courage to go through the operations.
Triggers: Surfaces in the wake of an achievement that you can take credit for. When you have worked diligently, invested your time and resources and succeeded. When you realize that you have made a difference to someone else through your help, guidance or kindness. Pride feels expansive and it kindles dreams of greater achievements.
Example: Today I received a lovely note from someone who dedicated her 90 days sobriety to me! I feel so proud of her achievement.
Triggers: When incongruities occur, the unexpected things or behaviors make you laugh. Amusement is social and dependent on the context. It is contagious and light. It brings the irrepressible urge to laugh and share your jovialness with others.
Examples: Making funny faces, jokes or actions.
Triggers: Witness or encounter human excellence. It rivets your attention, warms your heart and draws you in. It feels great and also moves you into action. It creates the urge to do your best so that you can reach a higher level.
Examples: A husband who donated part of his liver to the wife. A Cirque du Soleil performance. Steve Jobs.
Triggers: When you come across goodness on a grand scale. You feel overwhelmed, small and humbled. It makes you stop in your track. You recognize that you are a part of something larger than yourself. It is a transcendent emotion like gratitude and inspiration.
Examples: Being at Niagara Falls or Grand Canyon. Being in the presence of Dalai Lama.
Unlike the rest, love is multifaceted and it is not a single kind of positivity. It encompasses all of the above. What transforms these into love is the context. For example, when the good feelings stir in our heart within a safe and close relationship, we call it love. It is a momentary state and is not simply a description of our relationship. Love has a characteristic nonverbal expression - holding hands, nodding our head affirmatively or kissing. It is powerful because it can alter the inner chemistry of our bodies.
Example: The image above!
It is important to note that positivity is NOT positive thinking, which often involves trying to believe in upbeat statements; the operative word being trying. I remember a scene from the movie Sunshine Cleaning, where the character would look into the mirror every morning and repeat to herself that, "I am wonderful and amazing." Unless she truly believes in the statement, it will actually render her more detriment than good.
In the same vein, Fredrickson emphasizes that simply uttering more positive words or forcing a smile might actually do more harm. Whatever that is said or done must be heartfelt because science shows that genuineness matters. Here is an excellent article by the expert herself on what good is positivity.
Recommended actions: Can you think of situations where you have experienced positivity recently? Share that experience with someone and get your partner to talk about his/her experience also. Observe the positivity that emerges in you. Tell me if that doesn't make you feel good.
Come, let's flourish together!
Source: Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. Crown Archetype.