Research from Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, has demonstrated that "the extent to which we can generate positive emotions from even everyday activities can determine who flourishes and who doesn't."
She also noted that purposefully creating positive moments in our daily lives can improve our overall well-being.
Additionally, research by Dr. Richard J. Davidson, a neuroscientist and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, explained how our brain is "plastic" and capable of being trained to have more positive reactions.
This research is powerful news for many of us who, at times, find it difficult to turn our attention away from the negatives. I have even had clients say to me, "I have always been this way (negative); there is no changing it."
In order to be any good at playing the piano, we have to practice consistently. It is easy to understand that logic with an instrument, but then fail to apply it with our mental health.
Luckily Dr. Fredrickson has provided us with tangible examples to practice in order to rehabilitate our brain:
Do good things for other people. In addition to making others happier, this enhances your own positive feelings. It can be something as simple as helping someone carry something or giving directions to a stranger.
Appreciate the world around you. It could be a bird, a tree, a beautiful sunrise or even an article of clothing someone is wearing.
Develop and strengthen relationships. Building strong social connections with friends or family members enhances feelings of self-worth and is associated with better health and a longer life.
Establish goals that can be accomplished. Work to improve your tennis or read more books. But be realistic; a goal that is impractical or too challenging can create unnecessary stress.
Learn something new. It can be a sport, language, instrument or game that instills a sense of achievement, self-confidence and resilience. Again, be realistic.
Choose to accept yourself, flaws and all. Rather than imperfections and failures, focus on your positive attributes and achievements.
Practice resilience. Rather than let stress, failure or trauma overwhelm you, use them as learning experiences and steppingstones to a better future. Remember the expression: "When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade."
Practice mindfulness. Ruminating on past problems or future difficulties drains mental resources and steals attention from current pleasures. Let go of things you can't control and focus on the here and now. Consider taking a course in a type of meditation.
Philip Searcy MSW, LISW-CP is a therapist for adults and adolescents with Psychological and Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry, LLC in Bluffton.