Joy

joy
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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?

Interest

interest
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I have almost finished my long-running series on the 10 positive emotions identified by Dr Barbara Fredrickson.  Previous posts in this series can be found here.  Today I am looking at interest.

Fredrickson defines the emotion of interest as the desire to learn new things.  The feeling of being curious about and open towards new experiences or knowledge.

Unfortunately, many of the things we need to do in our everyday lives can be really quite boring.  However, we often fail to set aside time and energy for interesting things.  It can be easy to make excuses not to, especially when the people around us aren’t supportive of our desire to stimulate our interest.

For example, you might feel compelled to justify it.  Many people believe that if something has no concrete outcome, such as “earning more money” or “fixing the house”, then it is valueless.  However, engaging your interest by obtaining new knowledge or a new skill can have value that cannot easily easily measured in monetary or physical terms.  Stimulating ourselves mentally can promote well-being, reduces stress and increase life satisfaction.  For example, I recently saw this article on social media about the health benefits of knitting.

What is the balance of interesting to boring things in your life?  When was the last time something really got you interested?  What were you interested in as a child?  What is preventing you from engaging in something that interests you?  Are you being held back by negative assumptions (such as, “I’m too old!”… says who?!)? Or fear of how others might view it?  Have bad experiences at school put you off?  Are you acting under “The Tyranny of the Should” rather than doing something you actually want to do from time to time?

The first step is to find out what you are interested in.  This might sound simple, but if you and your desires have been buried under the expectations and opinions of others, it can be difficult to discover who you are and what you want.  You might like to browse the free courses on offer from providers such as FutureLearn and Coursera.  Such online courses can be done without having to make a set commitment, at a time of your choosing and privately at home.  Or, you could join a local club or hobby group.  Many national hobby societies have websites which will direct you to your local group.

If you are really lost, here is a great list of ideas.  Work through the list slowly, without self-judgement – and see if anything makes you say, “Ooh!”.

Love

love
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I am continuing my long-running series on the 10 positive emotions identified by Dr Barbara Fredrickson.  Previous posts in this series can be found here.  Today I am looking at love.

When “love” is discussed, especially in art, music and media, people usually mean romantic love.  That’s not the only form love takes, but we use this single word to cover a variety of situations, relationships and experiences.

The ancient Greeks did not – they identified at least four and possibly as many as eight different types of love!  Here are the four that most people agree on:

  • Agape – love within and between members of a family, and in relationship with a divine entity
  • Eros – romantic, sexual, passionate love
  • Philia – deep feelings of friendship, expressed between equals.  This word survives in our language today as a suffix – for example, a “bibliophile” is a lover of books.
  • Storge – love between parents and children

Focussing on romantic love, and its presence or absence in our lives, can mean overlooking or missing out on these other forms of love.  The love between family, friends and even for a pet can potentially be as emotionally fulfilling as the romance we usually associate with “love”.  This was highlighted in Disney’s Frozen (2013), in which characters (spoiler alert!) mistakenly assume that “an act of true love” must mean a romantic kiss.  Thankfully, they manage to save the day anyway, and learn something about love in the process.

So if you were asked what love you have in your life, what would you answer?  Do you regularly experience any of the four types described above?  Perhaps you can think of more types of love?  If you feel that love is absent from your life, what is blocking it?

Loneliness is a feeling that can result from a lack of loving relationships and other forms of friendship.  The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness has information on how they intend to address the problem of loneliness in the UK here.

If you would like to arrange counselling to explore any issues arising from this post, please contact me.

Inspiration

inspiration
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I have decided to carry on with my series examining the often-overlooked positive emotions, this time looking at inspiration.

Inspiration is, simply, the feeling of opening up to new ways of looking at or doing things.  It is excitement – the feeling of growing larger, stronger and more capable when presented with an idea or someone’s example.  Far from being just a mental process, inspiration can be a very physical and social one too.  It fits in with the broaden-and-build model developed by Dr Barbara Fredrickson – feeling inspired can encourage us to connect with others, and develop resilience and ability to cope with difficult situations.

When we see someone or something inspiring, we discover new things are possible for us.  It gives us an example.  We raise our expectations of what we can achieve, and gain some pointers as to how to do it.

How do you react when seeing someone else’s achievements or ideas?  You might find that you quickly shut the feeling down – this can be your mind’s way of defending you.  If you are afraid of failure, or embarrassment, you might find that you talk yourself out of trying things to avoid that risk – shutting down your feeling of inspiration.  You might use phrases like, “That’s alright for them, but I couldn’t do that”.  Or you might tell yourself that people will laugh at you for even thinking that you could do something.  Where have these messages come from?  Who says people will laugh?  Have people laughed at you before?  Did they have their own agenda of holding you back?

These are all difficult questions to answer, and it may be that you choose to hold back from something because that really is the best choice for you at the time.  However, it is worth asking those questions to be sure your reasons for holding back are your own rather than someone else’s.

When was the last time you felt inspired, and what did you do with the feeling?  Who inspires you?  Who lives the life you want, and how might you follow their example?  What holds you back – and are these obstacles from outside you or from within?

Are you ready to open up to inspiration?  Good luck! 🙂

 

Hope

hopeAs part of my continuing series focussing on the identified emotions of Positive Psychology, I am looking at hope in this post.  Hope is not just a wish or dream for something to happen, but also the deep belief that it can.  It might be a specific hope for something, or a general desire for things to be better.

It has been a very difficult time lately.  The bombings and attacks both here and overseas can make it very difficult to hold onto and sustain hope.  When we see these images and experience terrifying events, it is hard to maintain belief that things will be okay.

One of my favourite quotations is from Fred Rogers, a popular American television host.  He said, “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.’  To this day, especially in time of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realising that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”  I think that is very true – and while news reports tend to focus on perpetrators of such horrors, social media has given us an opportunity to share stories about the helpers.  The people who gave of themselves, even their lives, simply because they believed that was the right thing to do.

However, even watching these images for the helpers might not be enough if you are struggling.  Especially when we are already hurting, we can end up seeking out images and videos which we know will upset us but we feel a compulsion to do it anyway.  Then we end up feeling angry with ourselves for doing it, and spiral downwards.  Please be assured, this is quite common – but rarely talked about!

If you do feel an urge to look at news stories even though they are upsetting, remember to treat yourself with compassion.  Bullying yourself can make things worse.  Rather than telling yourself off, practise acceptance.  Gauge your internal reactions and check to see how you are tolerating your feelings.  Back off from things that cause you distress in a calm and gentle way.  Choose your own limits – say, three stories or 8 minutes.  Stick to your chosen limits, but be kind to yourself if you slip.  If you need to exit a conversation, or unfollow certain things on social media for a while, that’s fine too.  This is all part of self care.

Holding your own boundaries against the horror can give room for hope to grow.  Allow space in your mind for the possibility of change and improvement, and seek out stories where that has happened too.  Fantasise about how you would like your life and the world we live in to be, and compare that with where you are now.  What changes would have to happen?  How realistic are they?  What is possible for you to do to move from one state to the other?  What can you not control, and must learn to let go of?  You might like to use the Circles of Influence and Concern exercise to help you.

Gratitude

gratitude
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Following on from last time, I am continuing posts in the “Positive Psychology” series of looking at the often-overlooked positive emotions.  Today I will look at gratitude.

 

It can be very hard to feel gratitude when things are difficult.  It might seem that everything is going wrong and you don’t have  anything to be grateful for.  However, it is at times like these that we are also most likely to overlook the small things we have – they simply won’t register with us unless we make an effort to see them.  It’s easy to end up in a downward cycle.  Focussing on these things and working through difficulties can be done side-by-side, to help you feel better.

Positive Psychologists have expanded the definition of gratitude to mean more than just feeling thankful – it also includes a deep and meaningful appreciation for something or someone.  Not only does this result in feeling good in ourselves, it also encourages us to reach out more to other people.  We might offer a sincere thank you or a favour in return to the person who we feel gratitude towards, or we might “pay forward” the kindness to someone else.  This is part of Barbara Fredrickson’s “Broaden and Build” model.

Simply acknowledging something with gratitude can make a huge difference to our relationships.  For example, how do you respond when someone compliments you?  Do you reject the compliment out of hand, or thank the person giving it?  What a gift it is back to the other person, how good it might make them feel, to sincerely thank them rather than telling them they are wrong!  Do you know that your friends and loved ones know how you feel about them?  Or are you just assuming that they know?  How might you show you gratitude and appreciation for their presence in your life?

What about the objects in your life?  Your home, your work, your food and drink?

Some people keep a “gratitude journal” to help them hone their ability to feel gratitude.  This link has some tips on getting the most out of your journal.

Here are 100 suggestions of things to be grateful for if you are having trouble getting going.  Maybe not all of them will apply to you – it’s okay not to get 100%!

How about if I start?

Right now, I am grateful for my computer and the internet so I can write this blog post.  I am grateful for the sound of birdsong outside my window that is so soothing.  I am also grateful that now I have finished writing and can have a nice cup of tea!

Amusement

amusement
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I am returning to my series on the positive emotions identified by Dr Barbara Fredrickson in her work on Positive Psychology.  I have previously looked at awe, serenity and pride.  Today I would like to consider amusement.

What do we mean by “amusement”?  Fredrickson says it is the emotion we experience during play, humorous situations and ‘fun’.  Amusement is probably one of the most powerful for building connections between people.  For instance, have you made eye contact with a friend or stranger when something funny happens, feeling that flash of understanding that passes between you?  Or burst into sudden laughter at the same time as someone else, with a knowing look?

Laughter can even have some surprising health benefits.

Amusement doesn’t just have to mean laugh-out-loud funny moments, though.  It can mean something low-key – seeing a puppy play, dancing around your living room or a board game with friends.

Watching a funny TV show, playing with arts & crafts or listening to upbeat music are all amusing activities that lend themselves well to solitary or group occasions.  What amuses you?  When was the last time you had ‘fun’?

When people talk about “finding their inner child”, it can mean many things – such as rediscovering innocence, curiosity or being carefree.  I think an important aspect is rediscovering a sense of fun, that might have been squashed by adult worries and responsibilities.  A balance between seriousness and fun can lead to a richer experience, a sense of enjoying and engaging with life more.

Sometimes amusement lands in our laps, such as a funny video on social media.  Other times we have to put the effort in to create a situation in which amusement can occur.  How do you try to bring amusement into your life?

 

 

Feelings

feelings
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Feelings can be confusing things.  It is very common to feel a range of things all at once, and have trouble sorting them out.  It is also common to “mask” a difficult feeling with another one – for example, hiding sadness and hurt with anger as a defence.

What we usually term as “negative” emotions (such as sadness, anger, fear) are usually stronger and more obvious than positive emotions (such as joy, awe, pride) which tend to be gentler and more fleeting – even though they usually occur in pretty much equal numbers.

However, negative feelings can be useful.  They can alert you to a problem, such as someone crossing a boundary or something not being right for you.  They can also be helpful in providing the energy you need to change things.  However, if you struggle to identify exactly what you are feeling then it can be difficult to decide exactly what you want to do about a situation.  It can also be hard to put feelings into words when you need to explain them to someone else for support or help.

Enter the “Feelings Wheel”!  There are examples here and here.  You can use these wheels to pick out words which you think apply to how you are feeling and move inwards to find the ‘root’ of the feeling or outwards to look at emotions and behaviours which might link to what you are feeling.

As always, take it with a pinch of salt – if it feels wrong to you then that is okay.  This is just a tool to help you along and doesn’t know you better than you know yourself!

Pride

Pride can often be seen as a bad thing – as something to be avoided, to hide, as “going before fall”.  However, like most things in life there is another side to the story.

pride
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Pride in achievements, such as a job well done or an obstacle overcome, is one of the positive emotions identified in positive psychology.  These positive emotions can be much more fleeting and subtle than negative emotions – which is why more effort is needed to notice and embrace them.

While endless self-promotion may grate on those around us, constant putting down of the self and denying achievements can damage self-esteem (and can also grate on others!).  You can build self-esteem by recognising your strength and self-worth, by accepting and taking joy in what you have done that is good.

Building self-esteem is something we can only do for ourselves – we cannot rely on other people to build it for us, nor can we build it for others (although we can support others in developing their own self-esteem).  Do you hold yourself in high esteem?  How important are meeting your own needs and those of others?  Do you put yourself down a lot?  Humility does not mean making ourselves out to be worse than those around us – it simply means that we have a realistic view that we are not better than others, and have a realistic view of who we are and what we can do.

What have you done today, this week, this month, this year, last year that you are proud of?  Think how you define things to be proud of – do you compare yourself to others?  Don’t!  All you can compare yourself to is yourself – are you better than you were yesterday, a week ago, a month ago?  There are no ‘small’ things unless you choose to define them that way.  Did you manage to finish a task?  Have you learned something new?  Did you get through the day, even when you felt you couldn’t?  Are you proud of your achievements?

Serenity

Following on from this post, today’s post will look at the emotion that positive psychology identifies as serenity.

Serenity
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Serenity is the inner peace of a cloudless day, the feeling of knowing you have nothing you must do, the sensation of relaxing mind and body totally.

Serenity can be hard to find – we experience almost constant noise, rushing around, things to do and demands placed upon us.  However, serenity can be found in small moments and seeking it out can be a big contribution to wellbeing.  The good news is, you don’t have to wait until your holidays – you can find it today!

Some people find it in a discipline such as pilates or yoga, some like to head to the countryside to refresh themselves (remember, recreation can mean re-creation!).  Even taking a few moments to sit in the quiet with a warm drink and letting your mind wander can help you achieve serenity.  There are videos and pictures online, and a wide variety of apps that can help induce relaxation if you struggle.

Think about serenity if you put together a comfort box – what might help you to quiet your mind and spirit?  An image, perhaps?  Or a mug of hot chocolate?  Maybe an aromatherapy scent?

Is something holding you back from seeking serenity?Consider that you must fill your own cup before you can fill your own, and that self-care is a vital aspect of wellbeing.  There can be negative connotations to “selfish”, but care of the self can lead to stronger and better relationships with others.  If you can’t “find” the time, can you “make” the time?  Do you feel able to prioritise looking after yourself?

Do you feel you have too much to do, or that your mind whirls too much?  If you feel overwhelmed by thoughts and feelings and would like to make an appointment to work through them, please contact me.