By Alexa Zengeni
You can live a fuller and more satisfying life!
Positive emotions (like enjoyment, happiness, joy, interest, and anticipation) increase our awareness and encourage new, varied, and exploratory thoughts and actions. This provides us with a wider range of thoughts and actions to choose from, and increases our coping abilities. Positive emotions are a sign of flourishing, thriving and growing in life rather than simply surviving life.
Negative emotions trigger immediate survival-oriented behaviours, for example, the fight-or-flight response for immediate survival. Positive emotions do not have any immediate survival value, because they take our mind off immediate needs and stressors. However, it is previously experienced positive emotions that affect our survival responses; the skills and resources developed through positive emotions provide a larger range of behaviours and resources that enhance survival.
Positive emotions help to create flourishing both in the present and in the future. They can undo lingering negative emotions because they shine a new light on negative emotions. By cultivating positive emotions, we build up our coping resources, resulting in increased resilience when dealing with negative emotions. Allow James’ admonition in the first chapter of his book to change your perspective, bring healing, lift your spirit and give you a new lease of life:
2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (NLT)
Ponder the life of David, how his moments of sorrow and feelings of defeat were overcome by meditating on the Lord God Almighty. The word of God provides us with unlimited resources to cope, overcome and prosper.
96 To all perfection I see a limit,
but your commands are boundless.
97 Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
98 Your commands are always with me
and make me wiser than my enemies. (NIV)
Harvesting the returns of positive psychology
Resources gained through positive emotions build up over time and increase our overall well-being. Individuals who are happy exhibit many positive, long-lasting traits such as better coping, a longer life, and increased health.
The creative process can be divided into two stages.
- Stage 1, defocused attention which occurs when we are able to see a wide range of possibilities and take in as much information as possible.
- Stage 2, focused attention, when we feel more negative emotions. This is when we analyse the possibilities that we found during defocused attention.
Stage 2 of the creative process implies that negative emotions have an important part to play in our well-being. They help us to perform better than if they did not exist at all. This reflects how I work on an assignment. I start by doodling, jotting down notes, reading, surfing the net and discussing my ideas. However, as the deadline threatens, I switch to survival mode; if I do not finish, I don’t get paid, I won’t be able to pay my rent, I won’t be able to go out to the movies … as the tension rises, I become more focused and work hard towards finishing the work in time.
In my previous article, I explained that the pleasant life is transitory. Likewise, positive emotions are temporary, leading us to spend our lives searching for new ways to experience positivity as our old techniques become ineffective. Long term and consistent meditation increases our life satisfaction by broadening our minds and helping us to build our personal resources. This means that we have the capacity to experience more positive emotions in the future.
Reliving positive experiences induces positive emotions; writing about our positive emotions enriches our experiences, which leads to stronger relationships and improved skills. Journaling increases our well-being; it makes us feel happier and healthier.
Being in relationship with God
I encourage you to mediate on the word of God, journal the wonderful experiences you have had in your walk of faith, express your positive emotions. There you will find the meaningful life, the good life and pleasurable life – the essence of happiness.
I have based this article on research done by Barbara Lee Fredrickson, a social psychologist. She developed the broaden-and-build theory to explore the function of positive emotions.
About Alexa Zengeni
Alexa Zengeni is a Personal and Corporate Coach based in Johannesburg. She started her career by working as a human resources generalist primarily in the Financial Services Sector. More recently her work, facilitating leadership development programmes, has taken her across Africa, exposing her to multiple levels in the organisation, and different disciplines and industries – including mining, infrastructure development and retail. Through facilitation and coaching Alexa creates safe yet challenging learning environments, urging others to reach their peak in both their personal and professional lives.