How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health: Perceived Positive Social Connections Account for the Upward Positive Spiral

This breaking bit of positive psychology news just in from Ken Pope…

*Psychological Science* has scheduled an article for publication in a future issue of the journal: How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health: Perceived Positive Social Connections Account for the Upward Spiral Between Positive Emotions and Vagal Tone.

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The authors are Bethany E. Kok, Kimberly A. Coffey, Michael A. Cohn, Lahnna I. Catalino, Tanya Vacharkulksemsuk, Sara B. Algoe, Mary Brantley, and Barbara L. Fredrickson.

Here’s how the article begins:

[begin excerpt]

People who experience warmer, more upbeat emotions live longer and healthier lives. Indeed, prospective evidence connecting positive emotions to physical health and longevity has steadily grown for a decade (for a meta-analysis linking positive emotions to objective health outcomes, see Howell, Kern, & Lyubomirsky, 2007; for a meta-analysis linking positive emotions to mortality, see Chida & Steptoe, 2008).

 

Experiencing positive emotions more frequently, for instance, forecasts having fewer colds (Cohen, Alper, Doyle, Treanor, & Turner, 2006), reduced inflammation (Steptoe, O’Donnell, Badrick, Kumari, & Marmot, 2007), and lower likelihood of cardiovascular disease (Boehm & Kubzansky, 2012).

 

Complementing this prospective correlational evidence, a recent longitudinal field experiment designed to test Fredrickson’s (1998, in press) broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions found that individuals randomly assigned to self-generate positive emotions reported experiencing fewer headaches and less chest pain, congestion, and weakness compared with a control group (Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008).

 

These first causal data lend support to the conclusion suggested by prospective correlations: Positive emotions build physical health. Stronger evidence still would be to find that an experimental manipulation of positive emotions influenced an objective marker of physical health.

Providing such evidence was one aim of the work reported here.

Cardiac vagal tone provided our objective proxy for physical health. Indexed at rest as variability in heart rate associated with respiratory patterns, vagal tone reflects the functioning of the vagus nerve, which is the 10th cranial nerve and a core component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates heart rate in response to signals of safety and interest (Porges, 2007).

 

Low vagal tone has been linked to high inflammation (Thayer & Sternberg, 2006), and lower vagal tone forecasts greater risk for myocardial infarction and lower odds of survival after heart failure (Bibevski & Dunlap, 2011).

 

Intriguingly, recent prospective evidence suggests that the causal link between positive emotions and physical health may run in the opposite direction as well: Physical health appears to promote positive emotions.

 

Building on findings that high vagal tone has been associated with superior abilities to regulate one’s own emotions (Fabes & Eisenberg, 1997; Thayer, Hansen, Saus-Rose, & Johnsen, 2009) and with positive emotionality (Oveis et al., 2009), we found that people with higher vagal tone show greater gains over time in their positive emotions (Kok & Fredrickson, 2010).

 

More strikingly, these same data also revealed that people who show greater gains in positive emotions show greater improvements over time in their vagal tone; in short, positive emotions and vagal tone show the reciprocal influence indicative of an upward-spiral dynamic (Kok & Fredrickson, 2010).

 

This prospective evidence not only challenges the view that vagal tone in adulthood is a largely stable, traitlike attribute (Bornstein & Suess, 2000), but also raises the possibility that changes in habitual emotions drive changes in vagal tone, and thereby constitute one pathway through which emotional health influences physical health.

 

[end excerpt]

Here’s how the Discussion section starts:

 

[begin excerpt]

These findings document not only that positive emotions build physical health, as indexed objectively by cardiac vagal tone, but also how they do so: We found that people’s perceptions of their positive social connections with others accounted for the causal link between positive emotions and improved vagal tone.

 

Supporting the conceptual model depicted in Figure 1, the data suggest that positive emotions, positive social connections, and physical health forge an upward-spiral dynamic.

 

Baseline vagal tone interacted with experimental condition to predict the degree of success people had in self-generating positive emotions.

 

Greater positive emotions in turn prompted individuals to see themselves as more socially connected.

 

Over time, as moments of positive emotions and positive social connections increased and accrued, vagal tone also improved, building a biological resource that has been linked to numerous health benefits.

 

This upward-spiral dynamic has the potential to set individuals on self-sustaining pathways toward growth that can explain the strong empirical associations between positive social and emotional experiences and physical health. Indeed, these findings suggest that habitually experienced positive emotions may be an essential psychological nutrient for autonomic health.

 

[end excerpt]

 

Here’s how the article concludes:

 

[begin excerpt]

 

Most dispensed advice about how people might improve their physical health calls for increased physical activity, improved nutritional intake, and reductions in tobacco and alcohol use.

 

This good advice can now be expanded to include self-generating positive emotions.

 

Recurrent momentary experiences of positive emotions appear to serve as nutrients for the human body, increasing feelings of social belonging and giving a needed boost to parasympathetic health, which in turn opens people up to more and more rewarding positive emotional and social experiences.

 

Over time, this self-sustaining upward spiral of growth appears to improve physical health.

 

[end excerpt]

To life, love and laughter,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Expert consultant to Pixar

Anger management coach

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526 San Ramon Valley, San Francisco Bay Area

(925) 575-0258

GuideToSelf.com – Web site

WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com –  Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer

@johnschin – Twitter

Reprint request contact info: Barbara L. Fredrickson, Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Davie Hall CB 3270, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3270 E-mail: <blf@unc.edu> Bethany E. Kok, Department of Social Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Stephanstrasse 1A, 04103 Leipzig, Germany E-mail:

<bethkok@cbs.mpg.de>

How Can I Be Happy? Using Science to Increase Your Happiness

How Can I Be Happy? Scientifically-Proven Techniques to Increase Your Happiness

By John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder Guide to Self

If I had to live my life again, I would … read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept alive through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.’’ Charles Darwin

The questions ‘Where can I find happiness?’, ‘How can we be happy?’, and ‘How can I be happy?’ have been asked by philosophers for thousands of years. Only in the past 20 years has science taken a research approach to answering such questions. This burgeoning field is known as positive psychology and tests which exercises, mindsets and activities truly add to our happiness, our well-being.

Here are 7 of the top scientific answers to the question, ‘How can I be happy?

Positive psychology answers question...How Can I Be Happy?
Positive psychology answers question…How Can I Be Happy?

 

1.     How Can I Be Happy? Practice Self-compassion

While self-esteem has to do with how you feel about yourself generally, self-compassion involves how you treat yourself when things go badly. The goal is to treat yourself with the same type of kindness and compassion that most people extend to loved ones when they fail. When someone else makes a mistake, most people will react with some degree of kindness and understanding. Self-compassion seems to turn down the volume on anger typically associated with huge mistakes while still maintaining your sense of personal responsibility. A 2007 study at Duke University found that ‘inducing self-compassion may decouple the relationship between taking responsibility and experiencing negative affect.’ The way in which you do this is to speak to yourself as if you were a three-year-old child. This allows for mistakes (which are a major path for learning), screw ups, and errors. Self-compassion seems to be related to greater resiliency (i.e., the ability to bounce back from difficulty). Work at speaking to yourself with kindness.

 

2.     How Can I Be Happy? Pursue life goals with meaning.

What is the meaning of your life? Having life goals which are personally meaningful is a major facet of happiness, according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at U.C. Riverside and author of The How of Happiness. Those folks who pursue wealth or fame won’t boost their satisfaction with life because, just like new possessions (think of the new BMW!), they bring only passing joy. This is due to the idea of the hedonic treadmill – you adjust to new situations and possessions remarkably quickly. Once you adjust, the happiness fades. On the other hand, goals that increase happiness are challenging yet attainable, involve personal growth, and have some internal value. So, what is it you love to do? In what areas of life does time seem to stop? In which activities do you lose yourself? Look at these questions to discern where your meaningful goals lie.

 

3.     How Can I Be Happy? Breathe.

Most adults only use 20% of their lung capacity. This means that you are frequently oxygen deprived. As the brain runs on oxygen (and glucose), it is critical to remind yourself to take deep breaths throughout the day to increase happiness, psychological flexibility and the more positive emotions.

Take a deep breath in through your nose for 6 seconds. Hold your breath for 2 seconds. Breathe out for 8 seconds. Breathe into your abdomen or belly. As you breathe in, your belly should inflate like a balloon. As you exhale, your abdomen should collapse or be pulled in toward your spine. Focus on breathing out all the old stale air in your lungs. Repeat 5 times. Your breath is one of your most powerful tools to break the cycle of negative emotions and cultivate positive ones.

 

4.     How Can I Be Happy? Get out in nature.

Take a leisurely stroll outside. Gaze at the trees, the clouds, the plants and the birds. Studies have shown that a mere 20 minutes spent in a natural environment has a restorative effect on the mind. Remember to breathe deeply during your stroll. Recently, a study came out in the Journal of Environmental Psychology showing the vast mental health benefits of spending 20 minutes per day in nature.  Twenty minutes surrounded by trees, birds, plants and fresh air decreases anger, increases vitality, energy, mood and happiness. One of the best ways to get feeling better is to reconnect with nature. Numerous studies have linked increased energy and well-being to exposure to nature.  A simple wilderness walk leads to increased feelings of happiness, less anger, and better immune system functioning.

5.     How Can I Be Happy? Exercise.

Studies show that individuals who exercise more than 20 minutes per day, sleep at least 7 hours per night, and eat healthy foods that are naturally colorful have reduced feelings of anger and irritation, higher levels of happiness and well-being.  Have you worked out today? If not, take a brisk walk for 15-20 minutes (outside in nature of course!) to increase your level of happiness and satisfaction with life. Studies show that sweating three times per week reduces symptoms of depression roughly as well as antidepressants.   Exercise ups the production of “feel good” neurotransmitters, such as endorphins, and of proteins that improve connections between brain nerve cells.

6.     How Can I Be Happy? Focus on Gratitude

Practicing gratitude, the simple act of counting your blessings, has been demonstrated to increase levels of happiness, according to Lyubomirsky. One critical component to cultivating happiness seems to lie in spending time with others who are less fortunate than you. This is largely because the mind naturally makes comparisons. When you compare yourself to someone more fortunate than you in some way (e.g., wealthier, prettier, smarter, more successful), you feel worse about yourself. Yet when you compare yourself to someone less fortunate than you, you feel better about your situation.  So volunteer, visit an old relative, and be grateful for all that you have…the clothes on your back, a bed to sleep in, a roof over your head, the ability to walk on your own, and so on. Get specific. Get back to basics. Appreciate all that you normally take for granted. It will make you happier!

Positive psychology coach john schinnerer phd emotion expert
How can i be happy? Practice gratitude

 

7.     How Can I Be Happy?  Learn Realistic Optimism

The simple explanation of realistic optimism is that it is the practice of looking for the best in each person and situation. Studies show that practicing being more optimistic can improve your outlook on life. Martin Seligman found that participants who learned realistic optimism had a significant increase in happiness and a reduction in depressive symptoms.  Lyubomirsky had volunteers write for 10 minutes per week about their dreams for the future and ways they could achieve them. Six months later, she checked in with them again, and found that they were happier, even if they had stopped their journaling.  What’s more, you can start with little steps.  Whenever something bad occurs, think of the positive that might come out of it.  It takes practice. It feels uncomfortable at first. But it gets easier. Keep at it!

 

 

About the Author

John Schinnerer, Ph.D., an expert in positive psychology, is revolutionizing the way in which people make sense of the mind, behavior and emotion. In December of 2011, he was one of three emotion experts (along with Paul Ekman and Dacher Keltner) 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. 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 Summa Cum Laude 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 (you can get a free PDF copy of the book by visiting Guide To Self and entering your name and email address!).  His blog, Shrunken Mind, was recently 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). He is currently working on a destination site to teach individuals paths to sustainable happiness via positive psychology and ongoing practice at HowICanBeHappy.com.

 

John_Schinnerer_200px_Suit_Square_Anger_Management

 

Positive Psychology Coach John Schinnerer Ph.D. on Handling Adolescent Anger w/ Dr. James Sutton

Positive Psychology Coach John Schinnerer Ph.D. on Handling Adolescent Anger (What to Do With Angry Teens) w/ Dr. James Sutton from The Changing Behavior Network

Radio/Podcast Interview

Check out the interview I did with Dr. Sutton last Thursday….

www.thechangingbehaviornetwork.com/?p=1499

Anger Management

Let me know your thoughts down below!

Thanks for listening!
John

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Expert consultant to Pixar

Anger management expert

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought (click the link above to sign up for a free PDF copy of the book AND 3 free online anger management courses!)

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526, San Francisco Bay Area

(925) 575-0258

GuideToSelf.com – Web site

WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com –  Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer

@johnschin – Twitter

 

 

Clinical trial supports use of Kava to treat anxiety

How Can I Be Happy? Turn Down the Volume on Anxiety

May 15, 2013

Piper_methysticum

Kava (Piper methysticum) (credit: Forest & Kim Starr/Wikimedia Commons)

A world-first completed clinical study by an Australian team has found Kava, a medicinal South Pacific plant, significantly reduced the symptoms of people suffering anxiety.

The study, led by the University of Melbourne, revealed Kava could be an alternative to pharmaceutical products for the hundreds of thousands of Australians who suffer from generalized anxiety disorders (GAD)

“In this study we’ve been able to show that Kava offers a potential natural alternative for the treatment of chronic clinical anxiety; unlike some other options, it has less risk of dependency and less potential for side effects,” said lead researcher, Dr Jerome Sarris from Department of Psychiatry at the University of Melbourne.

The study also found that people’s genetic differences (polymorphisms) of certain neurobiological mechanisms called GABA transporters may modify their response to Kava.

“If this finding is replicated, it may pave the way for simple genetic tests to determine which people may be likely to have a beneficial anxiety-reducing effect from taking Kava,” Sarris said.

‘I’ll have what she’s having’

An additional novel finding of the study, recently published in Phytotherapy Research, was that Kava increased women’s sex drive compared to those in the placebo group, believed to be due to the reduction of anxiety, rather than any aphrodisiac effect.

Future studies confirming the genetic relationship to therapeutic response, and any libido-improving effects from Kava is now required. Dr Sarris said these significant findings are of importance to sufferers of anxiety and to the South Pacific region, which relies on Kava as a major export.

[snip]

“Although scientific studies provide some evidence that kava may be beneficial for the management of anxiety, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning that using kava supplements has been linked to a risk of severe liver damage.” — NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine,

“Heavy use of kava with comorbid alcohol consumption or an existing liver condition appears to lead to malnutrition, weight loss, liver damage (causing elevated serum γ -glutamyltransferase and high-density lipoproteincholesterol levels), renal dysfunctionrashespulmonary hypertensionmacrocytosis of red cellslymphocytopenia, and decreasing platelet volumes. —  Fu PP, Xia Q, Guo L, Yu H, Chan PC (2008). “Toxicity of kava kava”. J Environ Sci Health C Environ Carcinog Ecotoxicol Rev 26 (1): 89–112 [98]. doi:10.1080/10590500801907407.PMID 18322868.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kava for more.

— Editor

UPDATE 5/15: Dangers of Kava cited in editorial statement.

How Do We Make Sense of the Irrational? Emotions, Moods and Temperaments as Dramatic Theater!

How Can I Be Happy? Learn Positive Psychology and How Your Mind Works…

By John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Guide to Self

Emotional power is maybe the most valuable thing that an actor can have. Christopher Walken

The most embarrassing, shameful, stupidest things I’ve done in my life occurred when my emotional mind was in charge of me…angry, anxious, excited, doubting. As a result, I’ve spent 25 years studying ways to manage my emotional mind.

Analogies are a powerful means to help us understand the emotional mind. One of the best analogies to help you understand your mind – the relationship between emotions, moods, thoughts and temperament is that of an intense broadway play.

If you think of your emotional life as a play on stage, emotions are the actors that move quickly around the stage, speaking in short and energetic bursts. Each of the actors temporarily acts out the role of an emotion such as anger, surprise, or contentment. The actors temporarily embody emotions that are positive, negative or neutral.

How Can I Be Happy? Learn positive psychology coaching w John Schinnerer PhD
The Mind is Like a Broadway Play

Perhaps most importantly, you can feel more than one emotion simultaneously, just as if you have several actors on stage at once. There are layers of emotions…afraid of your anger, guilty about your lust, curious about your pride, and so on.

As an actor, there is room for a certain amount of creativity, but you’re always ultimately going to be saying somebody else’s words. – Daniel Radcliffe

 

One theory of emotions is that they are action scripts that have been around for millions of years. Intense emotions, such as rage, dictate how one responds to certain situations. In a very real sense, you are ‘saying somebody else’s words.’

 

The actor is in the hands of a lot of other people, over which he has no control.  William Shatner

Emotions are often experienced as a loss of control, something over which we have no control. Many clients have told me that anger overtook them in less than a second. Some have said that they don’t remember what they did while angry. Others have shared that it felt as if they were possessed.

Emotions are short in duration, lasting seconds to minutes. Emotions have a cause such as losing a family pet (grief) or observing earth from space (awe).  And emotions have visceral, bodily sensations associated with them (e.g., throat constriction, heart rate increase, perspiration, shoulders pulled back, chin elevation, etc.).

Moods are like individual elements of scenery that are rolled on and off the stage with each scene. The scenic elements “set the stage” for the scene. The scenic elements may create an ominous and scary setting. Or they may create a peaceful, sunny and relaxed environment. The scenic elements change every act and may change many times during the course of the play. Moods are like emotions stretched thin over time. For example, anger stretched thin is irritability. Fear stretched thin is anxiety. Happiness stretched thin is contentment.

Moods don’t typically have a cause. They just are. Some days you wake up in a stressful ‘scene’ and other days a pleasant one.

Temperament is the large screen that serves as the background for the entire first act or the entire play. The backdrop separates the front of the stage, where the play takes place, from backstage, and the area where many activities are happening at a rapid pace to create the illusion of reality out on stage. Temperament ranges from pessimistic to optimistic.

The director is like the rational, thinking mind who has some control over the direction of the actors and the play. The good news is that the director can learn to have greater influence over the actors in the heat of the moment. Yet even the director can be overcome with emotion at times. And when the director loses her cool, it’s best to yell ‘cut’ and take a break so everyone can start anew.

About the Author

John Schinnerer, Ph.D., an expert in positive psychology, is revolutionizing the way in which people make sense of the mind, behavior and emotion. In December of 2011, he was one of three emotion experts (along with Paul Ekman and Dacher Keltner) 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. 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 Summa Cum Laude 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 recently 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). He is currently working on a destination site to teach individuals paths to sustainable happiness via positive psychology and ongoing practice at HowICanBeHappy.com.

how can i be happy
John Schinnerer, Ph.D. … Positive psychology coach… San Ramon Valley, Danville CA 94526