I started my ten-part series about the ten positive emotions identified by researcher Dr Barbara Fredrickson a little over two years ago, and today I will be finishing it.
It is worth reiterating why I decided to do this in the first place.
Mostly, it was because learning about Positive Psychology challenged my assumptions of it. I expected the course to be ‘fluffy’ – light and not particularly scientific, presented by smiling people who insisted everyone’s lives would be better if they just “thought positive!”. It wasn’t like that at all.
Not only was there a great deal of rigour involved, but it also connected mental stress with physical stress and the bodily disruptions caused by chronic stress. What came out of this was a message of hope. Hope that the disruption and damage caused by stress can be mitigated and undone. I was struck by the explanation that positive emotions are so often overlooked because they tend to be fleeting and not very intense compared to negative ones. They are so easy to miss if we aren’t looking for them.
There is also the Inner Critic, who tells us that we are deserving of negative emotions and undeserving of positive ones. The Critic tells us that the only way to learn and to grow is by going through bad experiences and negative emotions. I don’t think that is the whole story. I think it isn’t enough to just learn to process and work through negative emotions. It is important, necessary even, to also work towards welcoming positive emotions into our lives. Positive emotions are fragile things, needing to be nurtured like an orchid while we battle the bindweed of the negative ones.
Joy, I think, is easily overlooked in this way and needs that nurturing perhaps most of all. Joy is unbridled and passionate. We feel safe, cherished, fortunate and vibrantly alive when we are joyful. However, that exuberance is often associated most with children, and is something we are encouraged to put away when we ‘grow up’. Moments of joy, the moments when we laugh and feel expansive and could dance around the room… We squash it. We come up with logical-sounding reasons not to indulge and enjoy ourselves. The things that made us joyful when we were children are deemed, by ourselves and by others, as inappropriate now we are adults.
But who made those rules? Why do we follow them? What benefit do we get from reining ourselves in this way?
Try indulging your joy for a few moments, and see what happens. Choose to let it loose instead of stepping on it. Dance. Run. Play. Splash paint. Sing. Jump in puddles.
What will you do?