In my last post, I explained some of the research behind the power of our positive emotions. Since I’m a big proponent of understanding the why before moving onto the how, what I didn’t share is some reliable, empirically proven ways to both increase and maintain our positive emotions. Well, the time has come!
To keep things simple, I’ve chosen two of my favorite methods for creating positive emotions to share with you. I selected them based on their ease of practice, foundation in research, and their efficacy (based on my own personal experience).
#1: Practice Gratitude
The great thing about practicing gratitude is that it can benefit everyone. It’s effective if you’re in a rut and struggling (like I was when I began my own practice) or in a really good place. Either way, a gratitude practice helps you notice the silver lining in your day no matter how hard or terrible it was. It forces you to be present and take stock of all the good moments in your life; it has become far too easy to let one day blend into another as we’re swept away by our busy, “always on” culture.
A teacher once told me that practicing gratitude allows you to notice the present, rewrite the past and positively impact the future – all in a matter of seconds or minutes. Can you think of any other practice that can do the same thing?
Practicing gratitude helps us switch our perspective and see things differently.
Gratitude: What the Research Says
The research on gratitude is impressive and diverse; it seems as if more and more studies are being published each day. The research overwhelmingly links gratitude to overall well-being, regardless of the specifics of each study. Want more details? Get this: studies have shown that participants who practiced gratitude had increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms for up to one month!
One of my favorite aspects of gratitude is its ability to build and strengthen social bonds. Gratitude is relational – it illuminates our connection to others, our communities and ourselves. In a world where face-to-face interactions are dwindling, and the majority of our time is spent online, gratitude’s ability to foster a sense of community is crucial.
How to Practice Gratitude
A very common, popular way to practice gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. Whether in the morning or at night, every few days take a moment to write down what you are grateful for. Remember, this isn’t supposed to be difficult! You don’t need to wait for the big, juicy, wonderful things to happen in order to write them down; the small stuff is more powerful anyway. If you’re looking to up the ante, add in why these good things happened. Hint: You’ll start to see that the things you’re grateful for all occurred because of something you did.
If you’re not really a journal person, don’t sweat it. You can adopt this practice to make it work for you. I personally have an alarm on my phone and I write my gratitude list in the notes section of my phone. If you still need more of a nudge, there are plenty of apps designed to help you.
Another way to practice gratitude often featured in positive psychology research is the gratitude letter exercise. This is more of a one-off practice, but you can do it as often as you’d like. Choose someone – anyone! – who you haven’t yet had a chance to thank. Reflect on all that they’ve done for you. Sit down and write a letter to that person and express your gratitude for them. If possible, you can read this letter aloud to the person so you see firsthand how your note makes them feel. If not, you can send it to them in the mail and ask them to read it aloud when you see them next.
#2: Explore Loving-Kindness Meditation
Similar to gratitude, the benefits of meditation are now scientifically proven. While there’s still so much to learn and discover, adopting a meditation practice is undeniably linked to living life well. There are many different types of meditation, but in this post, I’ll focus on loving-kindness meditation.
Take a moment and close your eyes. Think of someone or something that you really, deeply love with your whole heart. Pull your favorite memory of that person or thing into your mind’s eye and try to embody how you feel when you’re with them. Transport yourself to that place and let the present moment fade away. It’s hard to put that feeling into words – especially for someone else – so I’ll just say that the cultivation of that feeling is at the root of loving-kindness meditation. It is a practice designed to help cultivate loving-kindness, friendliness, and compassion for yourself and others.
Loving-Kindness Meditation: What the Research Says
Research shows that loving-kindness meditation is linked to positive emotions, which we now know help us to broaden our perspective and build personal resources. One notable study found that after only seven weeks of daily practice, loving-kindness meditation increased the number of positive emotions people felt, which increased their “mindful attention, self-acceptance, positive relations with others and good physical health.” In short, loving-kindness meditation helped these people become happier – both with their lives and overall.
How to Practice Loving-Kindness Meditation
You can practice loving-kindness meditation for any duration of time, and the format is simple:
- You send loving-kindness to four different recipients using the same short phrases.
- Begin by sending loving-kindness to yourself. Then send it to someone you love, someone you’re facing difficulties with and, lastly, someone who you’re impartial towards (such as the strangers you walk down the street with, the barista at your favorite coffee shop, taxi driver, etc.).
- In some cases, there is a fifth stage where you send loving-kindness to all beings.
- Some common phrases to use are “may you be safe,” “may you be happy,” and “may you be free.” Note: the phrases you use in your meditation vary and do not have to be perfect. It’s best to choose phrases that are meaningful for you and easy to remember.
I personally love practicing loving-kindness meditation with a guided meditation track; you can access one of my favorites here.
Positive Emotions are Key to Living Life Well
To recap, gratitude and loving-kindness meditation are two of many practices that can help you increase the number of positive emotions you feel on a daily basis. These habits matter; they have a direct impact on your overall happiness and well-being. Wherever you are in your own process, remember this: practice makes permanent, not perfect. Whether you’re a pro or a newbie, gratitude and loving-kindness meditation take time. If you fall out of a routine, don’t worry. Just gently and kindly ease yourself back into it. The cultivation of positive emotions is a long game. It takes work, but I promise you it’s worth it (and the research says so too!).
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About The Author
As a former marketing strategist and avid reader, Sofia Adler is a lover of storytelling (especially the stories we tell ourselves). Sofia graduated from Colgate University with a Bachelor’s degree in sociology and is currently getting a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology and Education with a concentration in Spirituality and Mind/Body practice from Teachers College, Columbia University (expected December 2018). Sofia is a 200-hour RYT yoga instructor specializing in vinyasa and restorative practices and has participated in multiple yoga philosophy trainings.
Sofia has completed an array of additional courses and workshops on coaching, mindset and the spirit, mind and body connection, all of which have influenced her coaching approach and style.
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