- Anshita Mahapatra
The Power of Positive Emotions in the pursuit of well-being
Do you tend to look at things from a positive perspective or do you see the future filled with grave circumstances or negativity? The National Institute of Health Researches found that having a positive outlook can lead to various physical and mental health benefits. The American Psychological Association defines well-being as a state of happiness and contentment with low levels of distress, overall good physical and mental health outlook, or good quality of life. We strive to achieve this state of well-being in one way or another and who wouldn’t want to live an enriching life. According to Martin Seligman, American psychologist and former president of the APA, some various components or factors help us achieve the ultimate state of well-being. One of these components is Positive Emotions.
The renaissance in positive emotions research stems from the growing interest in the psychology of a “good life”. Positive emotions tend to expand our awareness and open us up to new ideas. Positive emotions are much more than mere happiness. Positive emotions may include joy, compassion, interest, hope, love, pride, amusement, and gratitude. This doesn’t mean that negative emotions are to be avoided at all costs. All emotions, positive or negative are adaptive and useful in the right circumstances. South Asian cultures, including India, give a lot of space for celebrations and positive emotions but at the same time, there is very little tolerance for emotions perceived as negative like anger, ungratefulness, etc. This is where toxic positivity comes in.
Toxic positivity is an obsession with positive thinking and should not be confused with experiencing positive emotions. We shouldn’t feel pressure or pretend to be happy when we are struggling. Some research shows that talking about emotions, including negative emotions, may even help the brain better process feelings. Therefore, we should embrace the negative aspects of emotions as well; after all, that is what makes us human. Positive emotions are often confused with positive moods or affective states, but they are inclined to be different from one another. Positive emotions are often associated with personally meaningful circumstances, are typically short-lived, and occupy the foreground of consciousness. Whereas, Positive moods or effects are not related to personally meaningful circumstances, are free-floating and long-lasting and occupy the background of consciousness.
The Broaden and Build theory of positive emotions states that positive emotions have the ability to widen the range of coping strategies for individuals facing stressful situations, consequently enhancing their resilience against adversities. Dr. Richard J. Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that positive emotions can trigger "reward" pathways located deep in the brain, including in an area known as the ventral striatum. This activation leads to healthful changes in the body, including lower levels of stress hormones. There are various methods that one can try to develop positive emotions like meditation, mindfulness, cognitive therapy, self-reflection i.e. thinking about things we find important, training in compassion and kindness, and social connectedness. Therefore, taking time to learn the skills to self-generate positive emotions can help us become healthier, more social, more resilient versions of ourselves.
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