How do we study emotion and how do we even think about positive emotions? Why do we even have positive emotions? These questions and more are being investigated by June Gruber, and here she is talking about them:
I thought I’d first start briefly with a tale of positive emotion. It’s a really interesting state because in many ways it’s one of the most powerful things that evolution has built for us. If we look at early writings of Charles Darwin, he prominently features these feelings of love, admiration, laughter. So early on we see observations of them, and have some sense that they’re really critical for our survival, but when you look at the subsequent scientific study of emotion, it lagged far behind. Indeed, most of the research in human emotion really began with studying negative emotions, trying to build taxonomies, understand cognitive appraisals, physiological signatures, and things like anger, and fear, and disgust. For good reason, we wanted to understand human suffering and hopefully try to ameliorate it.
June Gruberis Assistant Professor of Psychology, Director, Positive Emotion & Psychopatology Lab, Yale University.
Positive thinking gets a lot of praise because people think that just changing one’s thoughts their lives would improve. This is not entirely true. It turns out to really make change in your life you need to change how you act. Sure this sounds obvious upon reading it, but read on for insight that isn’t so obvious.
However in the 70s psychologist James Laird from Clark University decided to put James’s theory to the test. Volunteers were invited into the laboratory and asked to adopt certain facial expressions. To create an angry expression participants were asked to draw down their eyebrows and clench their teeth. For the happy expression they were asked to draw back the corners of the mouth. The results were remarkable. Exactly as predicted by James years before, the participants felt significantly happier when they forced their faces into smiles, and much angrier when they were clenching their teeth.
Subsequent research has shown that the same effect applies to almost all aspects of our everyday lives. By acting as if you are a certain type of person, you become that person – what I call the “As If” principle.
Take, for example, willpower. Motivated people tense their muscles as they get ready to spring into action. But can you boost your willpower by simply tensing your muscles? Studies led by Iris Hung from the National University of Singapore had volunteers visit a local cafeteria and asked them to try to avoid temptation and not buy sugary snacks. Some of the volunteers were asked to make their hand into a fist or contract their biceps, and thus behave as if they were more motivated. Amazingly, this simple exercise made people far more likely to buy healthy food.
Dr. Beth Cabrera is all about making the workplace a more positive space for people and lucky for us she has a blog informing people on positive changes they can make!
Here’s a more recent post on how volunteering helps organizations, companies, and individuals:
In addition to lifting employees up, volunteering can also help them to develop new skills that can be transferred to their jobs. Volunteers build leadership capabilities, hone their communication skills, and learn to work with people from a wide range of backgrounds. Another benefit is that employees who volunteer together develop closer relationships. This is especially valuable when employees from different organizational levels or departments have the opportunity to work together. So it isn’t surprising that a recent study in Germany found that employees who volunteer not only are more satisfied, but they perform better at work.
Volunteering can be equally beneficial for college students. I graduated from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee not too long ago. I was proud to see that Rhodes topped Newsweeks’ 2010 list of “Most service-minded schools”. Rhodes has always had a strong commitment to service. The Kinney Program, based on volunteerism, leadership and civic engagement, was established in the 1950’s and Rhodes has the oldest collegiate chapter of Habitat for Humanity in the country. The newer Bonner Scholars Program focuses on service-learning, social change and servant leadership. The positive emotions that Rhodes students experience through volunteering provide benefits that help them to excel in school. Volunteering also teaches them skills that will help them to be successful after they graduate.
Being grateful and appreciating the world around you can contribute not only how good you feel but also to how long you’ll live. New research has drawn a connection between positive thoughts and enjoying them to a gernally happier life.
Hopefully this isn’t a surprise to anyone.
Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and have greater resistance to viral infections.
Much of the research on gratitude has looked at associations, not cause-and-effect relationships; it’s possible that people who are happy, healthy and successful simply have more to be grateful for. But in a landmark study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2003, Dr. Emmons and University of Miami psychologist Michael McCullough showed that counting blessings can actually make people feel better.
The researchers randomly divided more than 100 undergraduates into three groups. One group was asked to list five things they were grateful for during the past week for 10 consecutive weeks. The second group listed five things that annoyed them each week and the third group simply listed five events that had occurred. They also completed detailed questionnaires about their physical and mental health before, during and after.
Those who listed blessings each week had fewer health complaints, exercised more regularly and felt better about their lives in general than the other two groups.
It turns out that if you speak highly about those you know then you yourself are a good person. New research shows that the way you think about others reflects on how happy you are.
The researchers found a person’s tendency to describe others in positive terms is an important indicator of the positivity of the person’s own personality traits. They discovered particularly strong associations between positively judging others and how enthusiastic, happy, kind-hearted, courteous, emotionally stable and capable the person describes oneself and is described by others.
“Seeing others positively reveals our own positive traits,” Wood says.
The study also found that how positively you see other people shows how satisfied you are with your own life, and how much you are liked by others.
In contrast, negative perceptions of others are linked to higher levels of narcissism and antisocial behavior. “A huge suite of negative personality traits are associated with viewing others negatively,” Wood says. “The simple tendency to see people negatively indicates a greater likelihood of depression and various personality disorders.” Given that negative perceptions of others may underlie several personality disorders, finding techniques to get people to see others more positively could promote the cessation of behavior patterns associated with several different personality disorders simultaneously, Wood says.