In her book Positivity, professor Barbara Frederickson provides a number of positive thinking exercises to increase happiness and good feelings.
I’ve covered a lot of this research before so most of it wasn’t too surprising to me… but three of them threw me for a loop.
I looked up the studies to verify. Sure enough, they were all the real deal:
1) Be Sincere Or Your Heart Will Explode
Frederickson says fake smiles can lead to heart attacks.
Fake smiles, just like the sneers of anger, predict heart wall collapse.
Faking smiles is going to lead to a coronary? Really? How will I ever make it through the holiday season this year?
Sounded like bunk to me, so I looked it up. She’s right:
The authors examined whether facial expressions of emotion would predict changes in heart function… Those participants who exhibited ischemia showed significantly more anger expressions and nonenjoyment smiles than nonischemics.
2) Smile When Life Sucks
Frederickson says if you can keep smiling during the bad times, you’ll recover from them faster.
…scientists who have studied the emotional upheaval of bereavement have found that people who experience at least some heartfelt positivity intermixed with their grief recover far faster.
Wait, I’m supposed to smile when I’m feeling miserable? That sounds crazy and will make me look like a serial killer.
Yeah, she’s right again:
Facial expressions of negative emotion, in particular anger, predicted increased grief at 14 months and poorer perceived health through 25 months. Facial expressions of positive emotion predicted decreased grief through 25 months and a positive but nonsignificant relation to perceived health. Predictive relations between negative and positive emotional expression persisted when initial levels of self-reported emotion, grief, and health were statistically controlled, demonstrating the mediating role of facial expressions of emotion in adjustment to conjugal loss.
3) Count Every Single Kind Thing You Do
Frederickson says you should keep a tally of the good things you do for people.
When my collaborators and I have asked people to become more aware of their kindness toward others, keeping a daily tally of each and every act of kindness, their positivity rises considerably.
Many people I know would almost never have to count past one or two but that’s beside the point. I’m really supposed to keep a running tally all day?
That’s insane. But it works:
We examined the relationship between the character strength of kindness and subjective happiness (Study 1), and the effects of a counting kindnesses intervention on subjective happiness (Study 2)…Subjective happiness was increased simply by counting one’s own acts of kindness for one week. (d) Happy people became more kind and grateful through the counting kindnesses intervention.
I read a lot of research but sometimes things surprise me too.
From now on I’ll be the guy smiling when he means it…
And smiling when he feels lousy…
And I’ll be holding a calculator.
Jim Manske’s insight:
Barbara’s work continues to inspire me. Just say no to negativity!