A few days ago I had a great day, but that is not how I experienced it. I completely took for granted three great and productive meetings, two compliments, and one big success and focused all of my energy on one biting comment. Research shows that we put a disproportionate amount of focus on negative experiences and emotions and under experience the positive. I’m working on restoring balance to the force in my emotional life. Barbara Fredrickson‘s research indicates that if you can create a ratio of 3 heartfelt positive emotions to 1 heartfelt negative emotion you reach a tipping point where the positivity creates exponential increases in creativity, resilience, decisions making, productivity, and more. This is what Shawn Achor refers to as the Happiness Advantage. Here are a few ways I’ve been working on cultivating my own happiness advantage.
Feel Deeply. Good things are going to happen. Bad things are going to happen. I don’t want to ignore that or pretend they aren’t part of the full human experience. In fact, I’d like to feel those negative emotions even more deeply. Skipping over them and trying to not really feeling them can leave them unattended to and can prolong them.
Revel in the Moment. I’ve been working on noticing when I am having a good experience and paying as much attention to it as possible. Savoring. This mindfulness is most powerful with the littlest things. The other night as I was going to bed the snow was falling and the city lights were reflecting off of everything making it appear almost daylight outside. Rather than missing it or glancing briefly and heading to bed grumbling about how tired I was, I took several moments to just stand looking out the window and soaking in the beauty and wonder of the world. Here are a few other little things that I’ve been getting great enjoyment from and working on savoring: snuggles with my daughter, when my coffee is the perfect balance of bitter and sweet and just the right temperature on my drive to work, sunshine, good food, getting to work on a picturesque college campus – even in the winter, learning, connecting, sunsets, a great song, great television shows that move me, when my daughter tells me she likes my glasses, etc.
Less Rumination. We often think that talking about our problems and sharing them with others will make us feel better. Although this can help when we feel others relate to us, give us perspective, or help us solve problems, most often I find (and research shows) that ruminating about our problems only increases our negative experiences and emotions, fosters anxiety, and keeps us swirling in negative thoughts. I’ve been working on limiting my rumination. I’ve tried to give myself space to reflect, think, and strategize to move forward but catch myself when I am obsessing or starting to create revenge fantasies.
More Reminiscing. I have lots of great moments, emotions, and experiences. I also take them for granted far too often. I’ve been working on telling people about those positive experiences to relive them and celebrate them. I also have been working on reminiscing about some great experiences with those whom I’ve shared them with later. I’ve found that this reminiscing helps me create the positive experience again, share it with others, and even helps me remember them better.
How do you find ways to not over-experience the negative and avoid under-experiencing the positive?