Positive Thinking & Emotions: The Practice of Positivity


Positive Thinking & Emotions

I had the good fortune to be able to attend a most inspiring event where Barbara Fredrickson and Sharon Salzberg shared insights in the Brainwave series at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York city on the topic of the science of positivity.  Barbara, as a scientist, has been studying the neuroscience and physiology of positive emotions.  Moreover, her research shows us how we can build up our reservoirs of positivity and what good that does us over time.  Sharon teaches loving-kindness meditation, based on Buddhist teachings as a way to help us connect us to our joyful heart and happiness.  Their stories and synergies delighted us all.

Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions:

Fredrickson's research provides us with her Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions.  In a nutshell, the more positive emotions we experience, the more we are able to expand our thought-action repertoire towards the positive, the good.  We are opened up to generativity, to creativity and to each other.   By paying attention and increasing the frequency of positive emotions, we build up more positive resources that increase our resiliency over time.   This translates into the ability to hold our positivity in the face of adversity.  We are able to hold both sadness and fear and feel at the same time, gratitude and love.  We are more able to see and feel what is real and difficult while at the same time maintain our uplifted spirit.  Resilient people can hold the positive and the negative side by side.  The ratio of holding the positive affect to offset negative affect is 3:1.  Nurses who show greatest resiliency are the best able to uphold the human spirit when dealing with their patients' great pain and suffering.

Our social construct has been to emphasize our ‘brokenness' over strengthening our potential and goodness.  There are greater numbers of positive acts in the world than negative, yet it is the negative ones that get emphasized.  Most of millions of day-to-day positive acts are quiet and don't attract attention.Whatever we focus on, grows.  Therefore, as a practice, we can grow our capacity to flourish (feel joy and happiness) as we focus on all the micro moments of positive emotions.  It's the power of positive thinking. We are mindful that positive emotions are fleeting; and we are reminded of the impermanence of life and that all things will pass.   Loving-kindness meditation is one way to build our positive emotions and hence our resiliency.

Final takeaways:

  • The skill is to develop a sense of renewal through self-compassion and letting go, as opposed to hanging onto states that do not support us
  • Our everyday thoughts and practices shape who we are.
  • The neurons that fire together, wire together.
  • Experience is fundamental to memory.