1. Practicing Kindness Transforms You and the World

    November 13, 2014

    Practicing Kindness Transforms You and the World

    Practice kindness in your everyday life? Why should I be kind when others aren’t? Will it matter and make a difference in the world full of angry and indifferent people? I was asked these questions by a very bright 18 year old girl who undergoes therapy for body dysmorphic disorder and depression. My answers: “Sure it will! And it will make a difference for you and for others!” We had a long conversation and my therapy client left the session feeling a little bit better about herself and the world.

    In this post I will talk about the importance of practicing kindness and show how simple it is to develop kindness in you.

    Barbra Fredrickson, a psychology professor at the University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill is known for her “Broaden and build” model of Positive Emotions. She stated that positive emotions serve a higher purpose in our lives – not just to feel good – by increasing our scope of action-thinking in terms of widening our physical, cognitive and social resources and responses. Her theory also stated that we can “store and build up” positive emotions, by creating around us a spiral of upwards positivity. Meaning the more positive energy you send out, the more likely you are to attract others that issue the same type of “energy frequency”.

    But more than that, have you noticed how some people just seem to infect you with their positive energy? As if they made it more difficult to feel unhappy around them? Kindness as the positive emotion it is, can serve that contagious purpose just as well. Positive emotions also help you build up resilience. (more…)

  2. The Emotional Rainbow

    June 5, 2014

    The Emotional Rainbow

    by Daniela Aneis

    One of the most common critiques and one of the most wrong ones is that the Positive Psychology movement ignores negative emotions to simply focus on positive emotions. This is quite untrue. What Positive Psychology wishes to do is take the focus out of negative emotions to take a better look at what positive emotions have to offer in terms of human development.

    But what we really do need is to learn how to cope with the emotional rainbow that our nature has to offers us. The negative and the positive emotions. They are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary.

    Good or bad emotions?

    Actually there is no such thing as good or bad emotions, only the necessary ones. Or at least that’s what I tell my patients. Emotions are centered in the most primitive part of our brains (yes, reasoning came after in evolutionary terms) and yet it is one of the most crucial parts of our brain. Can you imagine calling yourself human and not being able to feel anything?

    Remember the “fight-or-flight” mechanism, so necessary to our survival as a species? We don’t need to assess in a jungle if that big animal is to eat or is planning on eating you, but our emotions still serve their purpose in our “social survival”. It’s still a jungle out there, only the rules are not as simple as they used to be.


  3. How to Maintain Positive Thinking Even When Being Criticized

    May 10, 2014

    How to Maintain Positive Thinking Even When Being Criticized


    Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen have written a book that offers a sensible approach to anyone who wants to enjoy a more meaningful life. Their book examines the ideal response to give to any type of constructive criticism.  The book’s primary message concerns the recommended thinking for the recipient of such criticism. According to Stone and Heen, that recipient ought to focus on thinking positively.

    The opening phrase in that book’s two-part title highlights the nature of the recommended response. Here is that phrase: Thanks for the Feedback. In other words, the two authors have put-forward a most unusual suggestion. The two of them have suggested that the target of any constructive criticism ought to be thankful for those decidedly pointed remarks.

    To the average person, that simple suggestion can seem like a huge challenge, especially if the received feedback has been given following performance of an action that was meant to be helpful.  Typically, the act of helping others is viewed as one that can inject more meaning into the life of the person who has chosen to be helpful. Yet, if that offered action has not been appreciated, then it fails to accomplish that goal. It is for that reason, that it becomes difficult to say these two words to the giver of constructive criticism: Thank you.

    The readers of the text by Stone and Heen should learn that remarks that relate to performance of an act do not have to be viewed as demeaning. In fact, such comments ought to be seen as a statement that serves to underline the value of the person who was the target of the constructive criticism. Development of the skill that is known as positive thinking stands as a meaningful accomplishment, one that allows a person to ascertain the sometimes hidden value in clearly-stated criticism.

    The person who has learned how to think positively does not take-on blame for the mistakes made by an entire team. By the same token, the person who has become skilled at thinking positively does not refuse to acknowledge a mistake, choosing instead to shift the blame to others. In both instances, the target of the constructive criticism has failed to examine each aspect of the offered feedback. Usually, the failure to take that approach invites the type of thinking that allows the offered remarks to accumulate unwanted nuances and interpretations, the way a snowball gathers snow, as it travels down a slope.

    That is not a healthy situation, and is one that ought to be avoided. It encourages the belief that a given mistake has managed to bring-on a catastrophe. The person who has formed such a belief has been turned-away from the path that leads to discovery of a more meaningful life.

    Now, while the second half of this text (The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well) does not make mention of advice for the critique-maker, such advice can be found between the books’ two covers. In fact, one piece of advice really resonated with this writer, a grandmother who was once a parent. That one piece of information concerned the ideal means for linking praise and criticism.

    Such a linkage can prove quite useful, when a parent wants a son or daughter to work-on developing certain virtues. Literature that is meant to guide such a parent recommends the praising of a virtuous act, followed by the word “but,” and then a reference to a virtue that must be developed further. According to Stone and Heen, that suggestion was insightful, and it also needs to be altered a bit, in order to get the targeted child thinking in a more positive fashion.

    Notice that in the above statement the praise was followed by the word “and,” rather than the word “but.” The use of “and” aids the formation of a more positive-sounding comment. It helps to open the door to realization of the fact that the person targeted by that particular comment remains valued. Such a realization then aids formation of the type of thinking that allows a person to continue to make progress on the road that leads to enjoyment of a more meaningful life.


     Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sahdblunders/7566255092


  4. Positive Emotions Help You Build up Resilience

    April 16, 2014

    Positive Emotions Help You Build up Resilience


    Why do some people endure despite all? Why do some people can still see the bright sunny day despite everything bad that happens to them? How come there are people who can still stand tall when everything seems crumbling down? Why does someone, after a violent passing for instance, gives in to alcohol while another chooses to help others survive like they did? That is the question many researchers are trying to answer. What makes people thrive despite adversity?

    Being resilient

    Resilience is a key concept. Being a resilient person doesn’t mean that events don’t hurt the same as it would hurt anyone else. It just means you have more resources to stand up and fight the negativity in our life, despite all the hurt it may cause you. In the end you will use that hurt is an adaptive and constructive way.

    Why is resilience so important? It serves as a mental health protection. In face of tragedy, resilient people will not perish and give in to depression, helplessness or despair. Of course not everyone is as resilient as their next door neighbor and that’s ok. Because resilience is also something that can be built.

    “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”

    The famous sentence by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche applies here when discussing resilience. Actually the more though situations you go through, you are more likely to have both the experience and the ability to answer once that same challenge is presented to you a second time.

    But what if positive emotions could also serve as a fuel for resilience? Fredrickson’s broaden-and-built model of positive emotions argues that positive emotions broaden our scope of action and thought, and also build up as resources to be used in stressful situations.

    In their study Cohn, Fredrickson, Brown, Mikels and Conway were able to link daily positive emotions experiences to ego resilience. Ego resilience is a “fairly stable personality trait that helps people adapt to their environment by identifying opportunities, adapting to constraints and bouncing back from misfortune” (page 362). In their study they found that experiencing daily positive emotions helps build ego resilience and deal with mild to moderate stressors, in a more constructive way. Ultimately growing your ego resilience will also help you experience higher levels of life satisfaction. But, as the authors of this study warn us, in cases of extreme psychological pain or psychopathology these results are not able to be seen.

    How can you be more resilient in your life?

    • Focus on the positive. It has to do with the kind of lenses you use to see the world. If we wish to focus solely on the negative, then we will find no reason to live and endure the kind of pain there is in the world. But nothing is ever just bad or just good. But focusing on the good will help attract more good things your way.
    • And search for it. We sometimes have a tendency for self-destruction and self-pity. But what if you decide to break the cycle and start searching for the positive emotions in your life? It may take a while but you’ll soon find more reasons to look on the bright side.
    • Keep feeding the positivity cycle in your life. Experiencing positive emotions in your life will decrease your stress levels, which in turn will help you build more resources, which will make you seek for more positivity in your life in a constant cycle.
    • Learn from experience. Staying in touch with the philosophers, Socrates said that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. The way I see it, it means that thinking life through will help you grow and not repeat the same mistakes again, making you a better person. So, if you examine your life and learn from your experience, you will learn how to seek positive emotions and build your resilience.


    Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisschoenbohm/9916669806

  5. Surviving Breakup or How to Smile Away Stress

    April 12, 2014

    How to Smile Away Stress

    by Audrey  Hollingshead


    “But why?” Jen asked, her heart breaking, “Why are doing this to me before school? I can’t teach art like this!” She dabbed her face dry and hoped her mascara wasn’t ruining her perfect face-her perfect morning already ruined by the impromptu breakup.

    “I’m sorry,” Henry sighed, “I just… think we’re too different. I’ll move my stuff out before you get home.” And that was that. Three years of solid bliss dissolved away in a single morning. SINGLE. The one word she hated hearing and now it defined better then a dictionary.

    On the way to work Jen couldn’t shake the horrible feeling that was growing in the pit of her stomach-her happy memories with Henry curdling faster than expired milk. She wanted to turn back and sleep this off but she also wanted tenure. So, once parked in her spot at school, Jen dried her face again and put on the largest fake smile she could muster. She held this expression for a few beats more as she imagined all the neat little projects her art students would be doing today. Clay sculptures, mixing paint pallets, and maybe, if there was time, Jen could show her students her latest experiment with her kiln.

    “This won’t be so bad,” Jen sighed to herself, “It’s not great, but not bad. Not really.” As she continued to smile she noticed her mood was slowly improving. Her gut mellowed and soon she was able to enter her classroom like it was any other morning. There would be time to grieve for the breakup, she knew that. But for today, Jen would grin and teach.

    While this situation it completely fictional it has a completely nonfictional use in the real world. But how? Was it Jen’s happy thoughts that made her smile? Or was it her smile that made her think happy thoughts? According to Fritz Strack and others, the answer is all “About Face.”

    In 1988 Strack and his colleagues did an experiment to study the faces relationship to our emotions. In this experiment they split their volunteers up into two groups. In one group Strack asked participants to hold a pencil in their mouth with only their lips, which created a frown. They asked the next to group to hold the pencil with only their teeth, which created a smile. They then asked both groups to read a cartoon and rate its hilarity. Shockingly, the volunteers whose pencil forced them to smile rated the cartoon funnier than those whose pencil forced them to frown.

    But what about stress? Could a smile be strong enough to lessen the anxiety of a situation? Psychologists Tara Kraft and Sara Pressmen seem to think so! They conducted a similar experiment with 169 participants. In this study they asked the university aged volunteers to form three groups. In one group they asked them to hold a chopstick with their mouth to produce a neutral expression. The other two groups held chopsticks to produce a simple smile, and a Duchenne (also known as a genuine) smile.

    Once the expression was mastered they then asked volunteers to complete a stress-inducing task such as holding their hands in ice-cold water or tracing a star from a mirror with their non-dominant hand. They measured heart rates and got volunteer reported stress levels along the way and discovered that those who smiled had lesser levels of stress then those who didn’t.

    So the next time you are feeling blue, we know exactly what you should do. It’s may be totally cliché, but go ahead, smile away! Turn that frown upside and soon you’ll be the happiest in town!

    And remember,

    Dream Well! Dream Positive!


    Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/33406464@N05/8123609502

  6. What Makes People Flourish?

    March 27, 2014

    What Makes People Flourish?

    by Daniela Aneis

    Since the appearance of Positive Psychology at the end of last century, the concept of flourishing has been a central one. Like flowers blossom on Spring and everything starts coming to life after the cold Winter, how can people flourish in their lives and achieve greater levels of positivity and personal growth? And so Positive Psychology sets out to answer: What makes people flourish?

    What is flourishing?

    According to positive psychology authors and researchers, the concept of flourishing has to do with reaching optimal human functioning. We all humans carry within ourselves great potential which is mostly locked inside us and we can’t always reach it. Through self-improvement methods and the search for the fulfillment of our potential, most of us do unlock our talents and reach a life of flourishing. So if you’re thinking you don’t have it in you to flourish, think again. Luckily we all do.

    How can one flourish?

    It’s basically an individual process, but researcher and “father” of the Positive Psychology movement, Martin Seligman published in his most recent book Flourishing (2011), a theoretical approach to achieving well-being and life satisfaction through a process of flourishing.

    His PERMA model is based on five central states that one can achieve (actually the presence of 2 or more is enough to create greater well-being levels):

    • Positive Emotions
    • Engagement
    • Relationships
    • Meaning
    • Accomplishment

    Positive emotions play a key role in your lives as they are essential in our sense of well-being and our ability to be with others and even expand our minds and the way we think, see and feel. Engagement has to do with Csikszentmihalyi’s (1975) concept of flow. Flow refers to a state of full absorption in the task at hand where time and space seem to disappear and the task represents intrinsically motivation – we do it simply because we enjoy it. We can see many flow experiences in creative people like writers and painters who spent entire days performing their work in a solitude experience and even forget to eat!

    Positive interpersonal relationships are undeniably crucial to our well-being. It starts with our first attachment relationship with our mothers and it goes on for the rest of our lives (family, friends, spouses, and children). We are social beings and it is the quality of our relationships that help us perceive life as full and meaningful. Meaning which is another component of well-being, is obtained through the use of our signature strengths and talents in the service of something greater than ourselves (being a volunteer for instance).  Finally, Accomplishment – reaching one’s goals – enhances our motivation and self-efficacy feeling, propelling us to engage in more and challenging projects.

    So, in practice, how can you flourish?

    A few simple steps to start your flourishing process:

    • Find your talents. What are you really good at? And we all have different talents! If you don’t know what you’re really good at, it’s time to try new things until you figure it out!
    • Practice Mindfulness. Create a sense of aware towards yourself and what’s around you. Live in the present. Have you spent 2 minutes to observe that Spring is finally here again?
    • Cultivate positive and meaningful relationships in your life. Yes, again and again, friends and family are what makes this ride through life seem easier and more enjoyable.
    • Try to do something that you really enjoy. In a perfect world we would all be working in something we’re truly passionate about, something that would make work feel like a God’s gift. Unfortunately, if your 9-5 job isn’t like that, you may one consider another activity in your life that makes you feel like that.
    • Fulfill some of your dreams and projects. What is a life without dreams? Without hope?
    • Lead a meaningful life. This is actually a result of all of the above. Leading a life towards meaning is believing you’re a part of something greater, that your smaller actions are a mechanism of something greater than yourself and we all play a role in it.

    Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vaneversion/8643805338/

  7. The Power of Positive Emotions

    March 23, 2014

    The Power of Positive Emotions

    by Daniela Aneis

    We all know the experience of positive emotions make us feel good with ourselves and others. But could they have another function other than just that? Evolutionary speaking, what are positive emotions for?

    Up until recently, research has been extensive on the so-called negative emotions and their role in evolution. It is posited that negative emotions were key in survival, where the “fight or flight” mechanism was crucial to our species endurance. The stress induced when facing a large animal where a decision had to be made if it dangerous or “potential food”, made our ancestors react, propelling them to action.


     But what about positive emotions? What good are they for?


    In 1998, researcher Barbara Fredrickson proposed the Broaden-and-built model of positive emotions. Feeling that research wasn’t paying enough attention to the role of positive emotions in human life, she set out to find out why we need positive emotions as much as the negative ones. She suggested that positive emotions broaden our scope of action-thinking and have a major role in physical, cognitive and social resources.

    Mainly, positive emotions are essential resources in resilience, serving as reserves to help us cope with adversity and promote health and well-being. Her research suggests that the more positive emotions people experience throughout their day and their lives, the faster they can react when faced with negative emotions.

    One of her most fascinating discoveries has to do with the fact that positive emotions can counteract the effects of negative ones. Meaning that the prolonged effects of negative emotions on cardiovascular diseases and cancer, for instance, can be counteracted with the experience of positive emotions. So if you lead an extremely stressful life, you might want to consider balancing the odds in your everyday life by introducing space for positive emotions.


    Are people who experience positive emotions at a greater level different from the rest of us?


    Not quite. People who experience positive emotions at a great level tend to pay a great deal of attention to positive emotions, and their reserves of positive emotions function as an upward spiral of positivity (Fredrickson, 2001). Consciously or unconsciously, positive emotions seekers tend to find positive emotions even in neutral situations and view the negative ones as part of a necessary personal growth (Diener & Biwas-Diener, 2008).


    Are people who experience more positive emotions happier?


    In his 2002 book Authentic Happiness, the “father” of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman states that happiness (or well-being is now the correct term to use) can be achieved through:

    • The seeking of pleasure;
    • The seeking of engagement activities;
    • The search for meaning in life.

    In a research done in 2005, researchers Peterson, Park and Seligman set out to answer what makes a full life so different from the empty life? Mainly they were interested in knowing whether the experience of positive emotions through pleasure, engagement or meaning contributed to a sense of greater well-being and life satisfaction and if those 3 experiences were any different between themselves. They found evidence that all 3 types of positive experiences where key in building up a sense of general well-being and higher levels of life satisfaction. However the 3 types of experiences seemed to have no difference between themselves.

    Nonetheless, the authors still state that a life of eudemonia – the search for personal improvement and fulfillment – versus a life of hedonism – a constant seek for pleasure may result in a more enduring happiness. The idea that a life based on the search for meaning entails a happier life finds resonance in Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy theory, where the key to leading a full life is a meaningful one.


    Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/70194213@N00/7161763179

  8. The Physiology of Emotions

    May 22, 2013


    by Kady Babs

    We often feel pressure in our bodies as a result of strong emotional experiences. When we are embarrassed we describe it as a “blush” and during intense anger we refer to a “pounding” in the temples. Most often people report a ‘knot” in the stomach when frightened, and when they nervous they experience “butterflies”. These are the simple extreme examples from the common man’s experiences. There are, of course, a number of physiological changes that take place during emotions.

    Emotions and the Autonomic Nervous System

    The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) regulates the body’s internal environment and usually functioning without conscious control. It has two divisions, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. Both have broadly the opposite effects. The sympathetic division dominates during emergency or stress and promotes energy expenditure.

    The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) encourages the increase of blood sugar, heart heat and blood pressure required for sustained physical activity. But at the same time it inhibits the process of digestion. On the contrary the PNS (Parasympathetic Nervous System) dominates during relaxation and promotes energy conservation, it brings down the heartbeat rate and blood flow to the skeletal muscles also promoting digestion. Most of the physiological changes associated with strong emotion such as intense fear and anger are caused by activation of the parasympathetic division.

    Brain Structure and Emotion


    The ANS mainly triggers the physiological changes in emotions. The ANS is coordinated by the brain. The hypothalamus, in particular, and some areas of the limbic system are involved in a number of emotional reactions, such as anger, fear and aggression.

    In cases of exaggerated emotional behaviour in human beings, damage to certain limbic areas was found. Such damage can take place before, during or just after birth. It can arise from a variety of causes including diseases affecting brain. Drug abuse, trauma due to auto accident, athletic injuries or gunshot wounds also cause such damages. Charles Whitman of University of Texas was the man who killed his wife and mother one night. Next morning he climbed to top of campus tower with a powerful rifle with telescopic sight. From there he proceeded to fire at every thing that moved. After one and half hour when he was finally shot down by the police he had killed 38 people. Although he had received psychiatric treatment for the last many months, an autopsy revealed a malignant tumor on the amygdala, part of the limbic system.

    Psychologists believed that brain’s control over emotions was largely through hypothalamus and amygdala but recently it has become clear that cerebral cortex is initially involved as well. The most interesting discovery is that the cortex’s role in emotion is asymmetrical. That is the left side contributes more to positive feelings while the right side contributes more to the negative ones. Those who suffer extensive damage to the right cerebral hemisphere are often quite acid and dare free in mood. That means that euphoric emotions are greatly influenced by left brain activity. Injury to right brain may serve to dis-inhibit or let free.

    Image Credit: Natalie Jordan