Positives of positivity

Positives of positivity

You may also amp up your positivity by savouring simple pleasures.

Yet again, you botch things up. Suboptimal grades, no internship and abysmal GRE scores. Your girl-friend is too busy to meet. Is she too done with you? After all, you don’t measure up. Your peers are landing plum jobs or gaining admission into prestigious programmes. Atul is even getting married. And, you are falling apart. To worsen matters, your parents keep suggesting what you should do.

You maintain a facade of composure. But inside, a cauldron of toxic emotions is simmering. Annoyance, anger, frustration, dejection, rejection— you catapult from one to another. But take heart, your downward spiral doesn’t have to descend into darkness. As psychologist Barbara Fredrickson writes in her uplifting book, Positivity, “Positivity puts the brakes on negativity.” However bleak your life may seem, you can turn the tide.

Be the best version of yourself

What are the benefits of positivity? From identifying more options to fostering robust relationships to cultivating a resilient problem-solving mindset, positivity allows you to “become the best version of yourself.” Fredrickson has postulated the “broaden-and-build theory” of positive emotions which claims that positivity widens the field of your mind and helps you construct an optimal future. Whenever you experience a positive emotion — be it “joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love” — you not only feel good at that moment but also grow “more receptive and more creative.”

In today’s metric-driven, consumerist world, people believe they will be happier when they buy a bigger house, get a promotion or receive accolades. Once we get the coveted house, raise or reward, we experience a surge of happiness but then revert to our usual baseline.  Instead, suggests Fredrickson, we should “pursue positivity each day…Moment by moment…”

Does that imply that we should eschew negativity completely? Not quite, argues Fredrickson. She acknowledges our “negativity bias” as most people tend to experience and remember negative emotions more potently than positive ones. By upping your positivity ratio to over 3:1, you can gradually counteract the baneful effects of pessimism. It may take anywhere from a few weeks to months to accumulate sufficient positivity to offset your chronic cynicism.

The easiest way to enhance your ratio is to reduce your negativity by disputing thoughts that portend a more dismal future than the evidence merits.  If you tend to ruminate, break this habit by engaging in a “healthy distraction.” While alcohol, drugs and even food may temporarily numb your feelings, the lows will hit again when their effects wear off. So, pick an activity that truly engrosses you.

Learn to recognise that negative thoughts are just thoughts. If a cascade of negative thoughts tells you that you are a loser because you haven’t got a job or admission into grad school, what can you do? First, recognise that all doors aren’t closed if you keep your mind open. Can you intern or even volunteer for a few months, while applying to more jobs and colleges? Can you upskill yourself by doing some short-term courses? Should you consider a change of field? While this period may be fraught with self-doubt, perhaps, you will be more grateful when you land a job. You may also work harder and do better in the long run because you underwent this trial. Reframing the situation thus can remove its sting.

You may also amp up your positivity by savouring simple pleasures. Whether soaking in a sunset, relishing a double-fudge sundae or sharing a joke with a friend, “wilfully generate, intensify, and prolong your heartfelt enjoyment.” Appreciate moments when you either receive or extend kindness to others. Engage in activities that challenge you and capitalise on your strengths. Visualise yourself achieving success as this has been shown to elevate people’s moods. Reach out to people who make you feel better. Spend time outdoors. Learn to meditate or practise mindfulness as these activities are salubrious for your mind and body.

Using these tools can work wonders to your mood. Fredrickson asserts that the “intensity of your positivity” is not as important as its “relative frequency.”  Feeling good, even slightly but more often, can be your ticket to a more rosy and robust future.

(The writer is Director, PRAYATNA)