The hearts and flowers that flood our consciousness around Valentine’s Day can conjure up sad emotions for some people, especially if loved ones are no longer near. But there is a way to reframe thinking that can help lifts spirits. Experts don’t suggest that grief should be ignored or suppressed; rather the idea is to adopt practices that foster and help maintain positive emotions.
Like depositing small coins in a piggybank, practices that remind us to reflect on what’s right and good in life can result in a wealth spring from which to draw strength during difficult times.
Numerous studies have shown that a mind tuned toward positivity has many health benefits for the brain and the body, such as lower blood pressure, less heart disease, and a stronger immune system.
“Positive emotions help buffer us from depressive symptoms and help us to recover from stressful experiences,” explains Natalie Bell, certified mindfulness instructor for the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. “You don’t have to force yourself to feel happy or pretend to be positive, but it helps to commit to noticing and practicing being positive.”
Bell offers workshops to help people develop a mindset that leans toward compassion, hope, and joy. The following are some of her positivity practices, which can be especially helpful if you’re feeling lonely, disconnected, or missing a loved one.
Three Ways to Usher in Positivity
“Our natural negativity bias, the tendency to look at things negatively or to focus on what’s not working, can create a skewed perspective on ourselves and our lives,” explains Bell. “So, it’s important to balance out the strong negativity bias we all have by practicing positivity.”
Build up your positivity reserve by trying some of these ideas:
➊ Create Positive Emotions Calendar.
Intentionally notice positive things and jot them down on your calendar. It’s a handy way to document good things with short entries. After a month or two, flipping through the calendar can further reinforce the positivity in your life. Here are some guiding questions:
What happened that felt good today? Pick at least three things small or large. For example, enjoyed a great meal, saw a friend, helped my neighbor, called someone to say hello, exercised, appreciated nature, laughed.
➋ Savor Positive Experiences.
Slowing down to allow good events to sink in helps rewire your brain for positivity. Give yourself at least 20 seconds to savor. Here are some ways to achieve that.
If you notice a positive feeling, strengthen it by naming your experience, “I feel happy,” “I’m in awe.” “I feel inspired.” Close your eyes and let yourself feel all the details of the goodness inside your body and mind.
If someone gives you a compliment, say “thank you” as you let yourself feel and believe the compliment. If you can add in a hug or hand shake, that may also add oxytocin and other positive chemicals to your state of feeling good. It enables positive energy to linger longer.
➌ Ignite the Day with a Positive Phrase.
Optimistic words cultivate goodwill inside of us, and goodwill cultivates more positive thoughts, behaviors, and overall attitudes.
Sometimes such phrases may feel like you’re forcing yourself to be happy or pretending. “Just try it on,” suggests Bell. “Choose a positive phrase and just practice saying it even if you’re not quite feeling it. You may notice that you start paying attention to positive things.”
Here are a few ideas:
- “I commit to seeing positive things”
- “I wish to be kind today”
- “May I be happy” or “May I feel free to be happy”
Opening to Life
Feeling connected to other people is an important part of healthy living. You can build and share goodwill throughout your day. Say hello to a neighbor or store clerk, and take that extra moment to look into their eyes.
According to Bell, allowing yourself to have these encounters helps everyone feel more connected and part of a greater whole.
Information about Natalie Bell’s upcoming workshops can be found at NatalieBell.com.
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