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    Pillar 4: Sparking Positive Emotions

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    Resiliency Pillar 4: Sparking Positive Emotions

    Positive emotional energy protect your cardiovascular system and directly affects your level of personal well being and happiness. The tools in this Pillar help you increase the number of positive emotions in your daily life, and keep you healthy, happy and more resilient.


    Helping distressed people go from high levels of emotional pain to lower ones is the province of psychotherapy and psychiatry. It is a noble pursuit, and it is well-established what awful consequences beset the mind and body if left unaddressed. And the impact on our health care system on many levels is excruciating.

    For example, well over 50% of all physician visits are considered "stress" related, and patients with persistent symptoms of anxiety and depression are much higher consumers of general medical services. [61]

    Though reducing emotional suffering is laudable, this is not to say that negative emotions do not play a key role in being fully human, or lack value.

    The Value of Negative Emotions

    Negative emotions play an important role in the survival of our species. They cause us to attend to immediate threats and narrow our focus to the most relevant issues of the moment. Anger, for example, prepares us to defend against violation or trespass; fear warns us that potential threats loom.

    Sadness causes us to slow down and reach out for support when loss or sorrow call. But when they become too intense, frequent or prolonged, bad things begin to happen.

    Tachypsychia (Fast Mind)

    For example, imagine someone jumping out from behind a bush with a gun in hand. They demand your money "or else"! Your body would immediately go into the "fight, flight or freeze" reaction as your mind entered into "Condition Red".

    In response to such threats, our bodies divert blood flow from the problem-solving portion of our brains and activate a much more primitive structure, the amygdala, concerned only with immediate survival.

    This elicits the "tachypsyche" phenomenon causing immediate "tunnel vision" and a laser-like focus on the threat at hand. This is followed by "auditory exclusion" causing you to screen out or distort what you hear going on around you.

    Time becomes distorted as well, and a sense of either speeding up or moving in slow motion takes over. A frequent refrain made by survivors of violent crime is: "It happened so fast!"

    These factors play a significant role in why "eyewitness testimony" is so often considered unreliable in a court of law. Our brains and minds just don't process information effectively under extreme levels of distress.

    Condition "Pink"

    More insidious, as lower grade stress resulting from chronic daily hassles accumulates over an extended period, you enter into "condition pink." The narrowing of mental focus then occurs on a much slower, almost imperceptible basis as stress hormones slowly "drizzle" into your body.

    This can cause you to ignore relevant information and lead to a negative downward spiral of thought and action occurring outside of your conscious awareness. You undoubtedly know someone whose mental perspective is chronically narrow, negative and rigid. These are not the people who have learned about the benefits of experiencing regular positive emotions!

    Positive Emotions and Resilience

    "I like feeling good. Feeling good makes me feel good." Anonymous

    So, if negative emotions are important to our survival, what do positive emotions do for us other than just "feel good" at the time? This answer has only become apparent in the past twenty years through research in the science of human behavior.

    As it turns out, positive emotions such as joy, contentment, gratitude and love play a much larger role in our overall health and well-being than was ever suspected. We now know that regularly experiencing positive emotions, even if only briefly, actually causes us to become more resilient!

    Expanding Your Perspective

    Research has shown that when people experience positive emotions their mental perspective actually "broadens", just the opposite of what occurs when we are angry, scared or sad. Positive emotions cause us to process information more quickly, to be more creative and actually "see" more of the world around us. This leads to improved decision-making, more options and better judgment. [62]

    In a widely-cited scientific study, for example, physicians in one group were given a simple gift to briefly boost their mood, and then asked to solve a clinical/medical problem. In comparison to a control group who did not receive the mood boost, the analysis showed that the doctors who did solved the problem more accurately, flexibly, and twice as fast, even when all other factors were controlled for! [63]

    Unbreak My Heart?

    Remember that song by Toni Braxton? Another benefit of positive emotions may entail just that.

    Experiencing positive emotions actually reduces the impact of stress on your heart. For example, when your cardiovascular system reacts to stressful events, as it does daily, it is important for it to "reset" to its normal baseline as soon as possible.

    Studies have clearly shown that the experience of positive feelings, such as gratitude or joy, even if only briefly, actually cause your blood pressure and heart rate to stabilize much more quickly than when in a neutral or negative mood state. In essence, regular positive emotions provide a highly protective "cloak" of resilience around your health on many levels. In part, this may explain why the "optimistic" nuns from the "nun study" cited in the first pillar, lived so much longer than those who were more pessimistic.


    When you experience positive emotions your thinking is clearer and your social connectivity goes up. The decisions you make and the social connections you develop in positive emotional states can have long-lasting consequences. They also can motivate you to take beneficial actions leading to an upward spiral of achievement and well being. Examples include reaching out to others, starting an exercise regimen, and the like.

    Need More Proof?

    Other studies have found that those who experience positive emotions more frequently have fewer colds, headaches, chest pain, inflammation and congestion. [64]

    "Cardiac vagal tone", an indirect measure of heart fitness, is closely associated with the body's ability to down-regulate or slow the heart as it attempts to reset and balance stressful input. Recent findings show that as people build their capacity to experience positive emotions, it actually results in improvements in their vagal tone. Ironically, this increase in tone seems to "reciprocate", and the improved cardiac function boosts your experience of positive emotions in the first place! [65] [66]

    Just as the body requires nourishment in order to thrive, it appears that the regular experience of positive emotions is also an essential life nutrient, particularly from a cardiovascular standpoint.

    The Gratitude Factor

    There are many positive emotions, awe, love, joy, serenity, and others. One of the most scientifically studied in terms of its impact, however, is the sense or feeling of gratitude.

    Though it initially may seem "hokey" to some, numerous studies have shown that by deliberately recognizing and expressing gratitude toward others, long term benefits follow, including improved mood and better sleep! [66]

    How Much So?

    Once again, resilient individuals have to recognize and effectively deal with negative emotions which are a normal part of life. As has been said:

    "Life isn't about avoiding the storm, it's about learning to dance in the rain."Vivian Greene

    And, some researchers believe they may have found a ratio of positive to negative emotions that seems optimal.

    Again, a three to one ratio seems to be recommended by various sources. That is, if you can recognize or create and savor three, even temporary, positive emotions for every negative one you experience throughout the day, you will have gone a long way toward unlocking this hugely important key to building resiliency! [67]

    Conclusions: Positive emotions are no luxury. They have a purpose in each of our lives, and can be created, recognized and savored. Learn how you can build increasing numbers of positive feelings into your life, and begin to experience all the benefits they bestow.


    Assess your new learning by clicking on the link below and answering some brief quiz questions:

    Pillar 4 Quiz


    Here are two proven strategies that can help you "spark" positive emotions in your life right away. Please read about them, and then select one to begin implementing. As you grow your skill over a period of 21-30 days, you then select a second over time.

    With sufficient focus, you will begin to see rapid results as you apply these tools. It will, like compound interest, "grow" over time. This will infuse you with protective resilience in the experience of positive emotions that can benefit you throughout many aspects of your life.

    Sabotage Alert !

    You can easily sabotage your resilience by telling yourself you "don't have the time" to practice these well-validated, scientific tools on a regular basis for 21-30 days. But the average person spends several hours a day watching television, playing video games, or surfing the internet. You know who you are!

    Surely you can adjust your schedule and build in 10-20 minutes per day to initiate some habits that can change your life. Don't settle for less!


    The positive experience of gratitude is one of the most widely studied of all emotions from a scientific standpoint. There is a great deal of evidence supporting the benefits that this and similar gratitude exercises can have on your mind and body. Take advantage of this by using the following exercise. It will counter the negative "Tetris" effect prevalent in our lives, and "prime" you toward the mental and physical benefits.

     First, download the form included to help you keep a brief record of your gratitude experiences for the next 21-30 days.

     At the end of each day, and before going to bed, briefly record 3 things or events that you are grateful for over the past twenty-four hours. These can be large or small. For example, you might simply write, "I am grateful that the weather was so pleasant today, allowing me to exercise." Or, it could be something more significant such as, "A friend I haven't spoken to for five years called me and told me they have been thinking about me. We had a great talk."

    Make sure that your recording of these gratitude experiences vary from day to day, and avoid putting down the same responses repeatedly. This forces your mind to "search" for new things to be grateful for, creating a positive "Tetris Effect."

    Print Strategy 1


    This is a bit like the Gratitude Journal, though with a different twist. Instead of focusing on feelings of gratitude, before going to bed, journal for approximately 2-3 minutes about one positive experience that happened to you that day.

    Again, it can be a relatively small event, but one that you found personally meaningful. Or, it can be something of more significance depending on what has transpired.

    Keep this journal for 21-30 days. Research has shown that it and the gratitude exercise result in very positive and lasting effects on your mood as well as physical health, including insomnia. The results can last for months.

    Be sure to review your journal(s) on a regular basis, and consciously savor as many of the positive emotions that go along with it as you can.

    Print Strategy 2

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