February 16, 2015

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It’s a beautiful Friday, the sun is shining, and all is right with the world when you run into an old acquaintance and stumble over her name. She not only remembers you, but your husband, children, and what you wore to HER wedding. You cannot get away from the encounter soon enough and leave feeling incredibly embarrassed. For much of the evening you are wondering, “Did she notice that I completely fumbled her name?” “Did I hurt her feelings?” “Does she think I’m a self-centered blankety-blank?” The positive feelings that you enjoyed for most of the day were quickly overshadowed by the negative emotions encasing you now. This is what we call The Negativity Bias.

Most of us experience more positive emotions than negative ones, but the negative ones tend to scream at us and demand our attention. Negativity bias is a vital part of human vitality, and is linked to our fight or flight response, warning us of imminent dangers. But positive emotions are equally as important as negative ones in their life-sustaining role. It is the positive emotions that open us to wonder, growth, engagement, relationships, creativity, and exploration. Fredrickson’s Broaden-and-Build Theory posits that positive emotions broaden our thought patterns and allow us to acquire intellectual, social, and personal resources to nurture learning and growth. Biologically, positive emotions may not “scream as loudly” but that only shifts responsibility to us to make an effort to hear them.

Dr. Fredrickson recognizes ten positive emotions: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. We experience many of these emotions multiple times per day but we usually overlook the comfort and peace that they yield us. Positive emotions are fleeting (sometimes only a second or two) and the opportunities to notice them can easily be missed. By committing to recognize and savor positive emotions, we nourish our mind and learn to deflect negative bias. Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness explains, “pausing to let good events sink in for 10-20 seconds allows them to become part of you and this habit can rewire your brain.”

What positive emotions have you experienced today but failed to notice? Did someone hold a door for you? Did you send/receive a nice text? Did you give or earn praise? Did you complete a task or plan a date? Each moment is a blessing and an opportunity to feel, notice, and savor the often quiet and discrete positivity that surrounds us.

Live well/Be well

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