By Dr Javed Latoo, a Psychiatrist
One thing I particularly admire about my psychology colleagues is that they evolve, innovate, adapt and change, unlike my psychiatry colleagues. Once they realise their treatments like CBT or Mindfulness can be given even by those who are not psychologists, they innovate something new like Mindfulness based CBT called MCBT. Once they realise someone else can do MCBT as well, they will innovate something new. Fifteen years ago many psychologists would frown on the diagnosis of personality disorders made by psychiatrists. They would not even believe in the diagnosis of personality disorders. Today most of personality disorders services are run and led by psychologists.
Psychology until recent times mainly focussed on the treatment of mental illness like depression and anxiety and combating negative thinking. It was not until early 1980's that a new branch of psychology popularly known as Positive Psychology developed under the guidance of its founder Martin Seligman. Positive emotions like Happiness, Gratitude, Kindness and Compassion became a focus of research to understand ways to improve well-being, contentment, and happiness.
Positive Psychology or pursuit of happiness has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Happiness gurus, pundits, self-help books, DVDs, talks, and mindfulness are all part of this movement. All are trying to help people to achieve happiness by the development of positive emotions. This industry has become particularly popular in the West. Most of the information contained in these resources is centuries old and is part of traditional eastern wisdom, philosophy, and major religions. We have now realised that our economic prosperity in last few decades has not necessarily increased general happiness or contentment of people or nations.
Function of negative and positive emotions
As humans, we experience both positive and negative emotions. Both play a significant role in our being. Research has shown that negative emotions play a vital role in our lives. For example, an emotion of anger helps us to correct injustice. As far as anxiety is concerned, it can warn us about impending dangers. Do positive emotions have any survival role?
While studying positive emotions, Barbara Fredrickson developed her Broaden-and-Build model. She proposes that when we are in the negative emotional state, we develop cognitive tunnel vision that can narrow our cognitive range. But if we are in the positive mental state, we have broad cognitive range and tend to think more broadly. We already know from our experience that we tend to be more social and interactive when in the positive mental state as compared to when we are in the negative mental state.
A recent survey by Columbia University and Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) reported that Norway, Denmark and Iceland are three happiest countries in the world. Even though Qatar is the richest country in the world, it did not even rank in the list of top 20 happiest countries. The USA ranked 14 on happiness index despite being a country with the largest economy. Again Japan is at 51st place even though it has the longest life expectancy. This survey highlights that money, or high life expectancy does not necessarily make people happy.
As we all have probably heard about there being two ways to look at life " glass half full or glass half empty." People who look at life as "glass half full" are more optimistic, less stressed, and have increased contentment with their lives. Studies have shown people who maintain a regular gratitude journal can be more positive, less stressed, less anxious and more satisfied with their lives as compared to those who don't write a gratitude journal. Amy Morin summarises benefits of Gratitude including better sleep, mental health, physical health, relationships and self-esteem. These reports are not surprising as this research again confirms ancient wisdom on gratitude contained in most major religions and eastern traditions.
We all know that emotions like compassion and kindness can have a positive impact on our lives. Loving-kindness meditation is an exercise to develop compassion and kindness. Though it is part of all the main religions. Meditation guru Sharon Salzberg popularised it in the West. A study by Helen Weng has reported that daily practice of loving-kindness meditation can not only increase empathy, but it can also make one more altruistic. Thus compassion, kindness, and altruism can be learned through an exercise called loving-kindness meditation. In another Barbara Fredrickson reported that loving-kindness meditation could increase the daily experience of positive emotions as well as an increase in personal resources including purpose in life.
Benefits of positive emotions
Studies have highlighted following advantages of various positive emotions
Strategies to promote positive emotions
Researchers like Judith Moskowitz have studied various strategies that can us help with developing positive emotions. Research now supports some of following strategies to develop positive emotions
Reference and further reading
Jason M Satterfield ( 2015) Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: Techniques for Retraining Your Brain. The Great Courses
Cite this article as:
Javed Latoo (2017). Developing Positive Emotions: The Beautiful Space-A journal of Mind, Art and Poetry. April 2017: TBSB117
Please check author names highlighted with each article.
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