Cultivating positive emotions with intention: make a "like it" list
Updated: Apr 28, 2021
I've been recently wondering about making a "like it" list. Different than a gratitude journal, this list acknowledges those little everyday moments that I love and make me feel good inside. I've been wondering if intentionally noticing and documenting these things will help generate more positive emotions in my life.
Resilience, wellbeing and health
I've learned about the work of Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a Psychologist at the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania. Her main research studies the effects of positive emotions such as joy, inspiration and pride.
She developed a theory on positive emotions called the "Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions". This theory is built on the notion that positive emotions are essential to our survival. Positive emotions aren’t just nice to have, but we literally can’t live without them. They promote new and creative action, ideas and social bonds. They help people build physical, intellectual and social resources. These resources are durable and can be called upon in different emotional states to maintain wellbeing. Dr. Fredrickson has identified 10 positive emotions we all need to survive:
Dr. Fredrickson's research has found that a ratio of 3:1, positive to negative emotions leads to optimal levels of health, wellbeing and resilience. Negative emotions like fear, anxiety, frustration, anger have the opposite effect of positive emotions. They cause the mind to constrict, focus on the threat and limit ability to build resources. Negative emotions cause us to become more close minded and less open to new ideas, connections and relationships.
The challenge of living in a pandemic
With this pandemic lingering on and uncertainty expanding further into the future, it's easy for negative emotions to begin to outweigh the positive. Many of the activities in our lives that organically helped foster those positive emotions are temporarily unavailable. Things such as:
Finding amusement at a concert or sporting event.
Generating interest in planning and anticipating a vacation.
Feeling a sense of love after spending an evening with good friends.
Being inspired after visiting a museum or eating a delicious meal at a restaurant.
Enjoying a sense of pride and accomplishment after a good workout at the gym in the company of others.
Unless we deliberately create opportunities to generate those feelings that boost our mood, build resources and expand our perspective, it's possible that those negative emotions brought on by a pandemic may dominate.
Not just positive thinking
I am not talking about only focusing on the positive. This is not toxic positivity by pushing the idea “just look on the bright side”. It’s crucial to acknowledge tough emotions and see life for the fullness of what it is. Allowing for those negative emotions to be as they are rather than trying to suppress them is part of what it means to be resilient. I'm talking about being intentional in acknowledging and engaging in things that bring us joy. Things that make us feel good and boost the opportunities to experience positive emotions in our daily lives.
For instance, I've noticed how much I enjoy watching the snow fall gently from the trees on a crisp sunny winter day or the changing colours in the sky as the sun sets. I love the way my slippers feel on my feet and the message they send that I’m home and can relax. I like the glow of the house at night and the way a warm cup of tea in my favourite mug feels in my hands. Just by setting the intention to notice these moments in my everyday life generates more positive emotions; I feel a sense of pride when I find something that I like that I hadn't noticed before.
Move forward with intention and attention
It’s up to us to find these moments that elicit these feelings. To take them in and allow the positive emotions have a positive effect. There is no need to understand why we feel like we do. There's no need to analyze it. We just need to acknowledge and fully accept it to build up that general sense of wellbeing.
Dr. Fredrickson invites us to ask questions such as: “When was the last time I felt this feeling? Where was I and what was I doing? What else gives me this feeling?”. She suggests paying attention to those people, times and activities that are most likely to generate these feelings. Then, even when we don't feel like it, intentionally include these things in our lives.
So, I take inspiration from Dr. Karen Reivich, a researcher in resilience and optimism, who invites us to "Hunt for the good stuff". Or Adriene Mishler from the YouTube channel, Yoga with Adriene who says "Find what feels good". And author and poet, Jacqueline Suskin who suggests, "Go ahead and like it". I will find a place to document these things and create a "like it" list. Then, I plan to deliberately engage with these moments so I can help maintain that 3:1 ratio even on tough days. This will help me build resilience and stay mobilized amidst difficult times.