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 or How to Create a Successful AND Happy Life

Positive Psychology At Commencement

This is a speech I gave at a high school commencement recently. I thought you might enjoy it!

Positive Psychology, or How to Consciously Create a Successful and Happy Life

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Welcome graduates, faculty, parents, friends and family.

My name is Dr. John Schinnerer. For the past 7 years, I have been speaking, writing and teaching about a new branch of science called Positive Psychology which is the science of happiness, positive emotions, creativity, forgiveness, mindfulness, curiosity, and meaning and purpose in life.

And one of my favorite positive emotions is amusement – that which you feel after a good joke.  So here is a joke for your amusement…

Driving along on a sunny day with her young granddaughter by her side, my aunt was on top of the world.

            “Grandma,” said the young girl “is Grandpa a lot older than you?”

            “Yes, a few years,” she said. Then fishing for a compliment, Grandma asked “Why do you ask, dear?”

            “Well, his mustache is a lot bigger than yours.”

Positive psychology is discovering signs pointing to a happier life.

When I first came to present here, I was anxious, excited, and uncertain as to how you would receive the info I had to share. After all, I thought, how many teenagers want to hear about positive psychology?

Apparently, you did.

And I praise you for your open-mindedness, your courage, your resiliency.

You are some of the most courageous individuals I know. For courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is overcoming fear. Without fear, there is no courage. You face your fears daily which makes you brave. It makes you courageous.

You are also among the most resilient people whom I know. And for that you have my respect and my admiration.

Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from challenging, difficult situations. You guys are among the… bounciest… people I know. Many of you have had multiple chances of giving up, of throwing in the towel, and you refused. You kept going.

Being able to bounce, being able to persevere, despite negative events is not due to luck. It’s due to resiliency.  Resilience means you effectively cope despite inevitable loss, hardship, or adversity. Resilience has been compared to flexibility in metals. For example, cast iron is hard, brittle, and breaks easily, that is it is not resilient, whereas wrought iron is soft and bends without breaking – it is resilient.

In most cases, successful people have overcome many more difficulties than those who are less successful. While everyone encounters failure and trouble, it is what you do AFTER failure that is critical.

Highly successful individuals have tenacity, a stick-to-it-iveness. They view failure as a learning experience. They don’t give up. They don’t throw in the towel. They try again. From Barack Obama to the president of FedEx to Eminem, successful individuals fail repeatedly …but they learn from their experiences and they keep going. They keep on walking in the direction of their values and their dreams.

As you keep walking in the direction of your dreams, of your values, continually remind yourself of your own resiliency. You have overcome great odds to be here today.  You have proven to be an inspiration for me and for many of the people with whom I talk. There is a ripple effect. I share my experiences with you with others and the stories have a positive impact on people whom have never even met you.

For instance, when I first came, I shared the ‘Free Hugs’ video with you. And after that presentation, several students wrote up pieces of paper that read ‘Free Hugs’ and taped them to your chests. Then you went around hugging classmates. To me, that is inspirational.

The letter the English class wrote to defend the name of the high school against mindless stereotypes after a tragic homicide was another instance where your actions inspired hope, passion and courage in others. Your positive actions are felt by more people than you realize.  You may not realize it, but you inspire others.

What Do Influential People Add to Our Lives?

One of the corporate leaders in the positive psychology movement, The Gallup Corporation, recently asked over 10,000 people what the most influential leaders contribute to their lives. Their answers boiled down to 4 essential areas – compassion, trust, stability and hope. Keep those in the forefront of your mind for just a moment.

The great African American tennis player, Arthur Ashe, once said…

“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is more important than the outcome.”

Many of us believe that success leads to happiness. A number of studies now show that happiness actually brings success as well. People like to be around happy, supportive, optimistic people. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of success for happy folks.

John Schinnerer Ph.D., Positive psychology coach

What Does the Positive Psychology Research Show?

When asked about happiness, Tal Ben-Sahar, a positive psychology professor at Harvard says “Happiness is not making it to the peak of the mountain; happiness is the experience of climbing toward the peak.” Apparently, success is a lot like happiness.  It’s about learning to savor the journey.

When asked what the top three components of success are, Tal Ben-Sahar replied

Passion (love what you do)

Effectiveness (belief in one’s self)

Hard work (persistence and dedication)

I want to draw your attention to the pattern here.

In business, the most effective leaders create trust, stability, compassion and hope in their followers.

As individuals, the necessary components for success are passion, persistence and a belief in one’s effectiveness.

All of these competencies are rooted in the emotional mind. Success starts in your mind.

And you are well-suited to share each and every one of these strengths with the world. Thanks to your principal and teachers you have been schooled in the new competencies necessary for success. As you head out into this new world, you are familiar with all you need to succeed – trust, perseverance, compassion, resiliency, curiosity and passion.

Allow me to wrap up with a short quote from the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo who said…

“The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

So when you set your goals – aim high, my friends, aim high.

Thank you.

John Schinnerer Ph.D.

Positive psychology coach

Founder Guide to Self

Award-winning author

Award-winning blogger

http://www.GuideToSelf.com

http://webangermanagement.com

New Positive Psychology eMagazine Coming – ‘Happier: Positive Psychology for All’

Happier - Positive Psychology for Everyone

The latest in positive psychology made accessible for everyone. Learn the latest in happiness, hope, humor, realistic optimism, positive relationships,  the impact of music on mood, cultivating positive emotions, gratitude, contentment, character strengths, resiliency, well-being and more.

Learn how to be happier with less.

Positive Psychology eMagazine for Amazon Kindle – Happier by John Schinnerer Positive Psychology Coach Danville CA

Get your free issue now by clicking on the link above.

To life, love and laughter,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach, Speaker, Author, Entrepreneur

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

GuideToSelf.comWeb 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

@johnschinTwitter

The First Ever Issue of Happier – Positive Psychology for All

I thought you might like a sneak preview of the new magazine I’ve been working on in which I’m sharing the latest secrets from positive psychology!

Positive Psychology Magazine – Happier: Being Happier with Less Via Positive Psychology by John Schinnerer Ph.D.

Go ahead! Check it out! I’m quite proud!

To a happier life,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Guide to Self, Inc.

Danville CA 94526

www.GuideToSelf.com