Positive Psychology and Positive Emotions
By John Schinnerer, Ph.D. Founder of Guide To Self, Inc.
The evidence is mounting, evidence that positive emotions exist for a reason, evidence that evolution has selected positive emotions for specific reasons that help our species survive – reasons that help you in every area of your life.
Positive emotions include feelings such as awe, curiosity, gratitude, compassion, calm, love, joy, interest, passion and happiness.
Evidence is mounting to support the necessity of cultivating positive emotions for your success at work, in relationships and personally.
At the beginning of every session with a new client, I make a point of sharing a short, gut-bustingly funny video clip. One of my personal favorites is the popular Mother’s Day video by Barats and Bereta (www.BaratsAndBereta.com).
The reason for sharing a humorous video with new clients is three-fold.
First, the funny video unlocks any negative emotions the client may be holding onto such as anger, irritability, anxiety or sadness (Fredrickson, 2004, The Royal Society).
Second, those few, fleeting moments of laughter, mirth and smiling reduce depressive symptoms and improve your well-being and satisfaction with life (Sin & Lyubomirsky, Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session, 2009).
Third, science has known for over a decade that chronic anger, anxiety and depression put you at an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease (Suls & Bunde, Psychological Bulletin, 2005). Most people go through life with the sympathetic branch of the ANS stuck in the ‘on’ position. The sympathetic branch is similar to the gas pedal in a car. Negative emotions (along with stress, exhaustion, and lack of exercise) activate the sympathetic nervous system which leads to increased heart rate, pulse and higher levels of cortisol into the blood stream. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response.
On the flip side, positive emotions activate the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which acts like the brakes on a car. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is in charge of calming the body, reducing heart rate and pulse, and bringing the body back to a resting state. The extent to which you can activate your PNS predicts your emotional and physical health. It is intimately related to how well you can self-regulate your own emotions.
Lower levels of PNS activity are related to higher levels of depression, anxiety, aggression, and hostility.
On the other side, higher levels of PNS activity are associated with better psychological flexibility, health and resiliency. Individuals with higher levels of PNS activity are related to more resiliency to stress as well as greater mental health in children in the face of chronic conflict between parents at home.
Importantly, the frequency with which you experience positive emotions is related to a more active PNS. Individuals who were shown humorous video clips demonstrated faster heart rate recover after experiencing intense negative emotions (Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998).
In addition, simply asking people to think about a time when they felt grateful activated the PNS.
Other ways to ‘turn on’ the PNS include exercise, laughter, mindfulness, massage, yoga, walking your dog and taking fish oil.
The success I’ve experienced with clients in my private practice is directly related to how well I can make them laugh. With laughter comes opportunity…
opportunity to unlock stale old anger,
opportunity to teach critical new skills,
opportunity to think outside the box, and
opportunity to transform life for the better.
How do you proceed from here?
Begin to become more aware of the percentage of time you spend in a positive emotional state as compared to a negative state. This simple realization, this basic level of awareness will begin to produce massive tectonic shifts in your life. And you will reap enormous benefits on a number of levels…physical, relational, professional and emotional.
To happier times,
John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
About the Author
John Schinnerer, Ph.D. is revolutionizing the way in which people make sense of the mind, behavior and emotion. In December of 2011, he was one of three experts to consult with Pixar on a feature-length movie in which the main characters are emotions. Much of his time is spent in private practice teaching clients the latest ways to turn down the volume on negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and stress as well as ways to cultivate a more positive mind. He has developed a unique coaching methodology which combines the best aspects of entertainment, humor, positive psychology and emotional management techniques. His offices are in Danville, California. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in educational psychology. He has been an executive, speaker and coach for over 14 years. He hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a daily prime time radio show, in the SF Bay Area. He wrote the award-winning book, Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought, which is available at Amazon.com. His blog, Shrunken Mind, was recognized as one of the top 3 in positive psychology on the web (drjohnblog.guidetoself.com ). His new video blog teaches people the latest ways to manage anger using positive psychology. (WebAngerManagement.com).