Honing a theme that’s been running through these recent posts, particularly ‘Simple Thankfulness’, here are some additional reflections on taking the time and care to intentionally guide our emotions. A part of that discipline (and it is a discipline) falls under the auspices of “gratitude practices,” although I prefer thankfulness because of its emphasis on internal relief. As a friend pointed out to me recently, that’s not about positive thinking; it’s about getting a handle on how to choose which emotions we frequent or bottom out into. For example, how we emotionally perceive or shape past events we’ve already lived (as in the Molly Bloom Soliloquy in the last post). I’d add here that that’s not living in the past – it’s freeing oneself to be fully in this moment by not tumbling into old, ineffective (and often inaccurate) emotional and mental patterns that drag us backward and downward. Of course, this functions equally in the present moment, in choosing to perceive and consciously generate positive emotions for the obvious and subtle reasons we have to be thankful right now but often ignore.
“And above all, being real, being sincere.”
Looking at emotional skillfulness from the outside in, there are also external actions we can take that will produce positive emotions and a more balanced state of being in general. Decades of research in medicine and psychology fields have identified that we experience pleasure, joy, peace and wellbeing when our hormones and neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins are released. There are natural activating triggers for these – employed and evolved over millennia – proven to significantly alter our emotional state, and each of them can be produced by specific activities. Here’s a list of some of the most effective activities, with simple commentary (although you can find more information about each suggestion throughout this blog):
- Exercise. Especially cardiovascular and slower forms, such as yoga, Tai Chi and deep stretching.
- Time in nature. The more immersive and longer time spent, the more effective.
- Nutrition. A balanced, full-spectrum diet (minimizing empty calories – processed carbohydrates, sugars and fats), but also with attention to how much and when.
- Meditation or prayer. Of any kind that leads to deeper mental and emotional quietness; simple slow diaphragmatic breathing can be done pretty much anywhere at any time.
- Listening to music and engaging art. See ‘Leaning into Art’.
- Generosity and kindness. Including in the simplest exchanges (not to be mistaken for gratuitous or strategic niceness).
- Accomplishment. Small or large makes little difference, but particularly potent when there’s creativity in the process.
- Thankfulness. Easy to activate and just a second away at any time.
- Physical or conversational intimacy. Especially when uncommon, real emotions are expressed and accepted.
- Laughter. Purposely engaging the people and activities that make us laugh.
For advanced practitioners, parents, healers and educators of all kinds, all of these suggestions can be at least directly encouraged if not actually produced for others. For those who are very creative and sincere, most or all suggestions on this list can be generated in one session. But even just choosing to focus on one or two that we don’t usually attend to will give us a better chance at uplifting our emotional state, and consequently, the experience and outlook of those with whom we interact. Especially during extended periods of intensified stress and strain, some focused attention directed to our emotional wellbeing – and the emotional wellbeing of those we sincerely care about – can make a world of difference.
A great example of hitting many of the above suggestions in one stroke (#s 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9), as well as exemplifying the title of this post, here’s a piece of art that expresses well, and calls upon, some emotions we’d probably be better off frequenting more often:
Painting by Andre Zadorine
(Thank you, Guy, for the suggestion of the Barbara Fredrickson video)