Tapping Into Positive Emotions When All Else Fails
When life gets rough, you can use a buffer built from your favorite things to make the dips into negativity less deep and the recovery faster.
But what do you do when you’ve run out of your buffer?
Imagine a scenario in which there hasn’t been much opportunity, time, or energy to do any of your favorite things. It also doesn’t seem like that’s going to change anytime soon. You might even have negative reserves at the moment. You can’t reduce the negativity of your situation anymore. You’ve taken out the unnecessary noise, and it’s still pretty bad. In such moments, is there still a positive emotion that you can tap into, independent of where you are, what’s going on, how bad things are, who you’re with, and all other variables?
If the answer is yes, how helpful would that be?
Types of positive emotions
In order to figure this out, let’s zoom out for a moment and look at broad types of positive emotions. Here’s one possible overview of positive emotions (feel free to add to this list):
Take a moment to think about which role these types of emotions play in your life. How often do you experience them? Are there any emotions you would like to experience more often?
Realizing that there are different types of positive emotions might help broaden your choice of which ones you want to tap into. If you make a list of your favorite things and think about how they make you feel, you might realize that they mainly give you certain types of positive emotions while skipping others.
When all else fails
Which positive emotion is most within our control, when all else fails?
While the answer may vary from person to person, the emotion that many thinkers feel is most in our control is gratitude. Even in the most difficult of circumstances, human beings have been capable of experiencing gratitude in their own unique and private way. Perhaps it’s not a surprise that through the centuries and across cultural and geographic boundaries, many of our great traditions are about the cultivation of gratitude.
I could talk about gratitude for a long time, but the best way to understand the accessibility and the effect of gratitude is by experiencing it.
Exercise: gratitude letter
Think about someone who has had a significant positive impact on your life. This could be someone who is still with you or not, an old school teacher, someone from your office or your personal life; it could be someone you have spoken with or never met in real life. The point is to choose someone. You are now invited to write this person a letter (you don’t need to share it with them), describing what you are grateful for, specifically, and why. If you don’t know how to begin, just start with the first sentence that comes to mind. How did it feel to do this? What did you notice while writing?
Hopefully, this exercise has helped you realize that you can tap into an infinite source of gratitude all by yourself. It might also have given you insight into your most important needs. You, as a human being, are able to access a sense of gratitude for things that don’t necessarily have anything to do with your here and now. In other words, you can tap into a source of positive emotions that does not require your current circumstances to always be pleasant, comfortable, or stress-free.
This invitation is not necessarily for moral reasons, such as “you must be grateful” or “you must feel X amount of gratitude in order to be a good person,” but for pragmatic ones. All you need is a radical focus on what you are grateful for.
This article was adapted from the book What is Water? How Young Leaders Can Thrive in an Uncertain World.
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