As human beings, we all want to live a rich and fulfilling life and to enjoy its many pleasures. According to the broaden-and-build theory, the cultivation of positivity helps to build long lasting resources that will enhance life-satisfaction. In turn this increases the likelihood of experiencing future positive emotions and increases resilience to negative emotions.
Yet we have a tendency to focus on the negative things in our lives, paying far less attention to the positivity. Therefore, the goal of this post is to increase your positivity, by capitalizing on your positive emotions. We’ll discuss how to:
- identify and overcome common ways that people diminish positivity, and
- create more future positive experiences.
As always, our team of experts in neuroscience and psychology have gone through over 30 scientific studies related to the experience of positive emotions, positivity, positive interventions, and emotion regulation strategies, in order to provide you with this practical, science-based guide on how to live a better life, by increasing your positivity.
Identify and overcome common ways that people diminish positivity
Before we take a look at strategies that will help us make the most out of our positive emotions, it is first wise to see what kind of strategies we unconsciously (or purposefully) take that decrease or dampen our positive emotions.
We will take a look at four actions people undertake that decrease the experience of positive emotions. By identifying when you do these, you can take active steps to overcome them.
- Fault Finding
- Negative mental time travel
Suppression to expression
The first kind of reaction we might do is to actively suppress the expression of the positivity that we are experiencing. A reason for this might be that we are experiencing a positive emotion in a situation that does not call for a positive emotion.
For instance having a funny memory pop up during a funeral or work meeting. In other times our shyness might limit expression of emotions in public, or maybe it goes against your own personal decorum.
Either way, as stated in our previous post on the down-regulating of negative emotions, the act of actively suppressing an active emotions bears physiological costs and leads to a decrease of how you experience the positive event. A tendency of suppressing positive emotions is therefore linked to lower experience of positive emotions, life satisfaction, and psychological well-being.
To overcome suppression, try to display the positivity that you are experiencing with non-verbal behaviors. Studies have shown that the facial expression of emotions may play a causal role in the way we experience our emotions, meaning that when we express the facial action of our emotions, in our case smiling, there is a higher likelihood that we will also feel happy.
- So next time you feel happy after receiving a positive feedback at work, or you are having a great night in town, go and show off that grin or let go of that bellowing laugh.
Distraction to savoring
The second kind of reaction that diminishes the experience of positivity is distracting ourselves by engaging in other activities and thoughts – often worries – unrelated to the positive event that is taking place.
To avoid being distracted when you could be enjoying a positive emotion, deliberately direct your attention towards the pleasant experience, or in other words be present and savor the moment. Studies have shown that being mindful towards positive event is linked towards an increased positive experience of the event, and that engaging in savoring behavior, is generally linked to a greater intensity and frequency of positive emotions.
- So next time you are feeling joy, pride, or content, try to focus on what is happening around you that is making you feel this way, and really divert all your energy and attention to it.
Fault finding to sharing your positivity
The third kind of reaction to positive events that diminishes the experience is when we look for, and pay attention to, the negative elements of the positive event that is happening. Or we focus on things that could be “even” better. Always wanting more, versus being happy with what you have, has been linked to overall lower happiness, optimism, self-esteem, and life satisfaction.
To overcome fault finding and capitalize on your positive experiences, try communicating and celebrating them with other people in your network. Sharing your positivity with others increases the experience of positive emotions over and above those that you have experienced through the event itself.
- So next time when you receive good news, or experience a random act of kindness in the street, go on and share with your friends, colleagues, neighbors, your dog or anybody who is willing to listen.
Switch from negative to positive mental time travel
The last major reaction that we take to positive experiences is when we use our ability to relive past, and prelive future events, to negatively influence the current positive event.
In other words, we think back at the cause of the positive event and convince ourselves that it is not being caused by our own merits, and think of the negative anticipations that the event will have on your future. Think for instance when “I got an A because the exam was really easy”, “My streak of luck is going to end soon, I’d better be careful”, or “These positive feelings won’t last”.
Instead of letting Mental Time Travel taint your positivity, use it to your advantage and focus on how your behavior, or actions, have led to the happening of this positive event, and how this positive event will benefit you in the future. Studies have shown engaging in Positive Mental Time travel will increase your happiness and even help reduce stress.
- So the next time you get a compliment on your work, or feel like you did a good job, try to think back at how you caused this event to happen, and try to envision how this event will benefit you in the future.
Use the process model of emotional regulation to maximize your positivity for future experiences
Now that we have a couple of strategies that we can implement at the moment we are experiencing a positive emotion, we can take it a step further. Using our knowledge of the process model of emotional regulation, we’ll learn to plan for positivity in future emotional experiences.
The process model of emotion regulation says that there exist several strategies that can be distinguished on the basis of where in this emotion-generation process they influence the emotion.
Specifically, we can regulate emotions with these strategies:
- Situation selection – choosing which situations we enter (or not) based on the expected emotional outcomes
- Situation modification – modifying those situations once we are in them
- Attentional deployment – directing our attention to specific features of the situation
- Cognitive change – changing the meaning we attach to those features
- Suppression/response modulation – altering our physiological, experiential, and behavioral responses towards an emotion
So how can the emotional generation process help us plan for positivity in future emotional experiences?
When we want to get the most positivity out of our positive experiences, we can use this model to zoom out from a momentary perspective. From our new broader perspective we can then think of a strategy that will not only enhance the experience of the event itself, but also create a strategy to lead up to the event, and a strategy to prolong the positive experience after the event has happened.
So basically, we will apply the five emotion stage strategies to the three stages of the event, the:
- Anticipation stage
- Experience stage
- Reminiscence stage
Let’s take an example to make these strategies a bit more palpable.
Say that you are feeling a bit tired/stressed from your work and you feel that you could do with a well deserved break. Using our knowledge of the process model, we can create the following three strategies to maximize our positivity.
Step 1: The Anticipation stage strategy
The first step to maximizing our positive experience is to create an anticipation stage strategy. In this step we:
- Decide what matters (Situation Selection)
- Create the best possible conditions (Situation Modification)
- Pre-experience the upcoming event (Attentional deployment)
- Create an optimistic outlook (Cognitive Change)
- Get excited for the event (Response Modulation)
Looking back at our example of needing a break from work, we first decide what matters. For instance, you can decide that, rather than saving money for a new television, spending your money on a summer vacation to Paris will be a better way to recharge your batteries after a busy period at work.
In order to create the best possible conditions, we can decide to learn about France’s culture and cuisine, and we might contact that friend who has been there before.
In preparing for the much needed break, we can already pre-experience the things we are going to do. For instance, you can see yourself having a relaxing picnic in the Jardin des Champs-Élysées, or maybe enjoying a nice dinner in a local restaurant.
We can already prepare ourselves cognitively by telling ourselves that it is going to be a lot of fun, thereby creating an optimistic outlook.
Lastly, we increase our behavioral response and get excited, by playing a lot of French songs, and try to ecstatically hum (or if you are feeling adventurous sing) along to the songs.
Step 2: The Experience stage strategy
The second stage is the experience strategy. In this stage we:
- Do what matters (Situation Selection)
- Optimize our experience (Situation Modification)
- Savor the experience (Attentional Deployment)
- Positively appraise the experience (Cognitive Change)
- Express our emotions (Response Modulation)
This is where you take the specific steps to experience the situation. You actually take days off to go, buy the tickets, and make it happen, despite all the “good reasons” to cancel the trip, or in other words do what matters in order to experience the positive emotion.
Once in France we can optimize our experience, for instance by deactivating our mail-box, so that we’re not distracted by work-mails, or keeping one of your favorite activities until the last day, so that you end your holiday with a bang.
Try to really savor the experience, by fully immersing yourself in the scenery, the great taste of the local cuisine, the scents of the lavender fields, and so forth.
Positively appraise this experience, by reminding yourself that this is a special moment, and congratulate yourself for making it happen.
Seal the deal by expressing your emotions, like smiling and laughing when you are having fun, or telling other people that you are enjoying your stay.
Step 3: The Reminiscence stage strategy
The last stage to make the most of our positive experience is the reminiscence strategy. In this stage we:
- Remember what matters (Situation Selection)
- Craft memories (Situation Modification)
- Re-experience (Attentional Deployment)
- Create a grateful outlook (Cognitive Change)
- Share our positive experience with others (Response Modulation)
Once home, we can decide to remember what matters, by making a box with souvenirs that remind you of the trip.
We can craft our memories. For instance, consider throwing away the bad or less happy pictures and making a photo album of the good ones, so that you are reminded of the fun time you had.
Take time to re-experience your trip, by looking at the photo’s and reliving the moments in your mind.
Create a grateful outlook by reminding yourself how fortunate you are that had the chance to have this amazing experience, and most importantly, share your positive experience with others, by telling your friends or co-workers about the highlights of your trip.
Recap of learning to live a better life by increasing your positivity
So what have we learned from this post? Well, firstly, to increase your positivity, it is important to allow yourself to experience positive emotions. Do not decrease them through suppression, distraction, fault finding, or negative mental time travel. Instead, pay attention to emotional events.
Specifically, the next time you experience a positive experience, try to:
- Physically express the emotion you are experiencing
- Actively direct your attention to what is happening and savor the moment
- Share your experience with other people around you
- Think back about how you caused this event to happen, and how this event will benefit you in the future
Lastly, take the time to prepare for positivity in future positive experiences. The process model of emotion provides a framework to help you prepare, involving situation selection, situation modification, attentional deployment, cognitive change, and suppression/response modulation.
So prepare yourself for upcoming positive events and maximize the positive experience by:
- Anticipating the event:
- Do what matters
- Create the best possible conditions
- Pre-experience the upcoming event
- Create an optimistic outlook
- Getting excited for the event
- Experiencing the event:
- Do what matters
- Optimize your experience
- Savor the experience
- Positively appraise the experience
- Express your emotions
- Reminiscing the event
- Remember what matters
- Craft memories
- Re-experience the event
- Create a grateful outlook
- Share your positive experience with others
Again, practice makes perfect, and just as with any other skill, you need to put time and effort into increasing your positivity. So try to actively commit to the cause and you will see you will make improvements. In time you will see that the more you engage in positive behavior, the more positive experience will come along in the future.