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? What Science Tells Us About Happiness

The Expert… Richie Davidson: What Science Teaches Us About Well-Being

One of my research heroes is the prolific Richie Davidson. He has an article in today’s Huffington Post… “What Does Science Teach Us About Well-Being?”

Here are a few key excerpts:

As we finalize our preparations to receive His Holiness the Dalai Lama for a dialogue on Global Health and Well-being, an event co-sponsored by the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the Global Health Institute, both at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it is appropriate to reflect on what science is teaching us about well-being.

1. Well-being is a skill.

By conceptualizing well-being as a skill, we appeal to modern insights from neuroscience where the study of neuroplasticity has informed us that the mind and brain are highly changeable and that the brain is constantly being shaped by experience and training.

Positive psychology coaching w john schinnerer phd
Happiness & well-being are skills that can be learned

Viewed from this perspective, well-being is the product of skills that can be enhanced through training and is also subject to environmental influences that impact our brain, especially over the course of development.

2. Well-being is associated with specific patterns of brain activity that influence and are influenced by the body.

Recent findings establish that specific patterns of brain activity involving the prefrontal cortex and limbic (below the cortex) regions are associated with reports of well-being.

Brain patterns associated w happiness
Positive psychology can lead you to a happier brain and mind.

Through this bidirectional communication between the brain and body, pathways have been identified that provide the beginnings of an understanding of why our emotional and physical health are intimately intertwined.

3. Equanimity and generosity both contribute to well-being and are associated with distinct patterns of brain and bodily activity.

The Dalai Lama has frequently urged us to be kind toward others and has suggested that kindness is a direct route to happiness.

Modern research has borne this out and indicates that kindness and compassion toward others is associated with peripheral biological (i.e., biology below the neck) changes that are salubrious.

Equanimity can be cultivated through simple contemplative practices and is associated with being attentive to the present moment and not getting lost in worrying about the future and ruminating about the past.

Modern research indicates that the average adult American spends nearly 50% of his waking life mind wandering–not paying attention to what he is actually doing.

average adult spends 50% of time with mind wandering
The average U.S. adult spends 50% of time with mind wandering

By learning to remain aware of the present moment, we can free ourselves from being slaves to the past and future.

Experiments have been conducted in which participants are randomly assigned to one of two groups–in the first group, they are provided with money and told to go out and spend the money on themselves and to purchase things for themselves only; in the second group, they are provided the same amount of money as the first group but they are told to spend the money only on others.

Since I’m writing about this, I’m sure you can guess which group showed much greater increases in happiness over the course of the day–of course, it was the group instructed to spend the money only on others.

Another amazing thing about generosity and kindness is that a growing body of evidence suggests that such behavior is good for our biology.

It helps to reduce inflammation and the molecules responsible for increasing inflammation.

4. There is an innate disposition toward well-being and prosocial behavior.

Organisms orient toward stimuli and situations that promote well-being.

how can i be happy? learn positive psychology with john schinnerer phd

Moreover, recent research indicates that human infants in the first six months of life show a preference for prosocial and cooperative situations compared with aggressive and antagonistic ones.

If this indeed continues to be replicated across a wide range of cultures, it would invite the view that we come into the world with an innate preference for good and we obscure that innate propensity over the course of development as we become socialized within our modern culture.

When we engage in practices to nurture compassion, we are not really learning a new skill so much as unlearning the noise which is interfering with our ability to connect with a fundamental innate core of goodness.

As these ideas become more widely known and appreciated, it is my fervent aspiration that our culture will pay more attention to well-being, will include strategies to promote well-being with our educational curricula and within the healthcare arena, and will include well-being within our definitions of health.

To life, love and laughter,

 

 

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology 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

(925) 575-0258

Get a free copy of John’s award-winning self help book at GuideToSelf.com

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

Positive emotions, better health, more relationships – New study

How Can I Be Happy? Learn to Cultivate Positive Emotions

Social Connections Drive the ‘Upward Spiral’ of Positive Emotions and Health

People who experience warmer, more upbeat emotions may have better physical health because they make more social connections, according to a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The research, led by Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Bethany Kok of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences also found it is possible for a person to self-generate positive emotions in ways that make him or her physically healthier.

happiness positive psychology happier cultivating positive emotions

 

“People tend to liken their emotions to the weather, viewing them as uncontrollable,” says Fredrickson. “This research shows not only that our emotions are controllable, but also that we can take the reins of our daily emotions and steer ourselves toward better physical health.”

To study the bodily effects of up-regulating positive emotions, the researchers zeroed in on vagal tone, an indicator of how a person’s vagus nerve is functioning.  The vagus nerve helps regulate heart rate and is also a central component of a person’s social-engagement system.

Because people who have higher vagal tone tend to be better at regulating their emotions, the researchers speculated that having higher vagal tone might lead people to experience more positive emotions, which would then boost perceived positive social connections. Having more social connections would in turn increase vagal tone, thereby improving physical health and creating an “upward spiral.”

To see whether people might be able to harness this upward spiral to steer themselves toward better health, Kok, Fredrickson, and their colleagues conducted a longitudinal field experiment.

Half of the study participants were randomly assigned to attend a 6-week loving-kindness meditation (LKM) course in which they learned how to cultivate positive feelings of love, compassion, and goodwill toward themselves and others. They were asked to practice meditation at home, but how often they meditated was up to them. The other half of the participants remained on a waiting list for the course.

cultivate positive emotions physical health positive psychology john schinnerer phd
How Can I Be Happy? Become an expert at cultivating positive emotions

Each day, for 61 consecutive days, participants in both groups reported their “meditation, prayer, or solo spiritual activity,” their emotional experiences, and their social interactions within the last day. Their vagal tone was assessed twice, once at the beginning and once at the end of the study.

The data provided clear evidence to support the hypothesized upward spiral, with perceived social connections serving as the link between positive emotions and health.

Participants in the LKM group who entered the study with higher vagal tone showed steeper increases in positive emotions over the course of the study. As participants’ positive emotions increased, so did their reported social connections. And, as social connections increased, so did vagal tone. In contrast, participants in the wait-list group showed virtually no change in vagal tone over the course of the study.

“The daily moments of connection that people feel with others emerge as the tiny engines that drive the upward spiral between positivity and health,” Fredrickson explains.

These findings add another piece to the physical health puzzle, suggesting that positive emotions may be an essential psychological nutrient that builds health, just like getting enough exercise and eating leafy greens.

“Given that costly chronic diseases limit people’s lives and overburden healthcare systems worldwide, this is a message that applies to nearly everyone, citizens, educators, health care providers, and policy-makers alike,” Fredrickson observes.

###

To life, love and laughter

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Anger Management Expert

Expert consultant to Pixar

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 Francisco Bay Area

(925) 575-0258

For a free PDF copy of John’s award-winning self-help book on positive psychology AND a free online anger management course, visit GuideToSelf.com and enter your name and email address.

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

 

This work was supported National Institute of Mental Health Grant MH59615.

Press release available online: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/social-connections-drive-the-upward-spiral-of-positive-emotions-and-health.html

For more information about this study, please contact: Barbara L. Fredrickson at blf@unc.edu.

Those interested in learning more can also explore Barbara Fredrickson’s recent book, Love 2.0, at www.PositivityResonance.com

Positive Psychology Expert Interview from Askimo – John Schinnerer Ph.D.

Here is an interview on positive psychology and positive emotions I recently did for Askimo, an expert site based out of Tel Aviv. Note there is a lag time between questions and responses due to the international video call.

I’ve been studying the question, “How Can I Be Happy?” for over 20 years. I love having some ways to answer this question now.

Feel free to leave your comments below. Let me know your thoughts!

To life, love and laughter,

John

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
Positive Psychology Coach
Expert Consultant to Pixar
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.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

Positive Emotions Unlock Anger, Boost Creativity and Improve Your Physical Health

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.

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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).