Another Tool for Putting Positive Psychology into Practice

Learned optimism is one of the most important aspects of my retirement transition.   For most of my career, I was a critical-thinking pessimist.  I was excellent at looking at worse case scenarios and planning to avoid pitfalls on any project or change we were doing.  I had a boss once tell me “you’ll never be happy”.  OK, he also was a boss who often told us to “shut up and row”, but I do agree I tended to see the negative side of things.  So part of my retirement was an intentionality to be more optimistic.  An optimistic happy person is who I wanted to be in retirement.

During the pandemic, I’ve been taking a series of Coursera classes on Positive Psychology (link here) to further my knowledge in this area.  This blog post will share another of the tools beyond savoring (blog post link) I’ve learned more about. Focusing on learning to be (to remain?) optimistic has been helpful in this time of uncertainty.

Another tool I’ve been putting to use is the Cultivating Positive Emotions practice.  It is more natural for us to focus on negative emotions (anger, fear, disgust) because for years of evolution that was necessary to prepare us to take action for survival.  It is only relatively recently (in the history of humankind) that those negative emotions are not really needed on a daily basis.  Positive emotions are not action motivation, but rather are life enhancing – they build social networks and stimulate creativity.

When cultivating emotions, it is helpful to broaden our vocabulary to really assess how we are feeling. I’ve personally created a lexicon of over 140 emotional terms!  Some of my recently added positive terms: uplifted, inspired, serene, curious, motivated, amused, contentment, amazed, and cheerful. 

When cultivating positive emotions, the first step is to become more consciously aware of your emotion.  Having a broad language lexicon helps (please do let me know if you’d like mine).  My lexicon is listed from more positive to more negative and all it takes sometimes is acknowledging where I am and looking to see if I can boost myself up a few levels of positivity.  Sometimes that requires a  “fake it till you make it” attitude; sometimes it’s via gratitude articulation or looking for little moments of joy that day (connect with a friend, engage in a hobby, do yoga, get outside, eat yummy food); and sometimes it is just venting (via journaling or a friend’s ear). And yes, sometimes I need to deal head-on with the source of the negative emotion through creative problem solving or reaching out for social support.

Some other ways I have used to help reduce unhelpful negative thinking are awareness of my self-limiting beliefs (the voices of “never good enough” or my bad habit of Compare & Despair) and trying to limit mindless (distracting) social media surfing.

I don’t ignore my negative emotion, but rather try to improve the ratio of positive to negative over time.   For me, consciously cultivating positive emotions does result in a more optimistic (happier) life outlook.

Do you do any regular emotional assessment?

Picture Credit: me on a fall awe-walk – lovely tree color in our neighborhood.

14 thoughts on “Another Tool for Putting Positive Psychology into Practice

  1. Hello Pat. I came across your blog this morning and felt really uplifted by it. Your thoughts on cultivating positive emotions really resonated with me. I have always been a naturally positive person but I am finding it harder to maintain these days. With more time on my hands thanks to Covid and news media filled with doom a gloom my optimistic outlook is being stretched. I would love to receive your lexicon. Like you, I love language but currently am feeling the need of some external inspiration.

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  2. I really like your view on this. I’ve had a quite pessimistic view in many areas, because of different factors (some work-related for me too), but I’m trying to work on that now, both when it comes to life in general, and myself. The pandemic has kind accelerated my attempts towards positivity because it’s the only way to survive psychologically. During this year I’ve had many downs but have then decided to focus on something inspiring, make life as enjoyable as possible, and focus on what I have here and now that is good.
    I like your idea of increasing the positive emotion vocabulary – language is more powerful than we may think.

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    1. Susanne, I’ve used many of the positive psychology tools through my retirement years. Emotional monitoring has been super helpful. As has daily gratitudes. Some folks who have known me a long time (work colleagues) cannot believe how much more positive I am these days. And yes, the tools have really helped me in this pandemic.

      And as a lover of words, I do believe language is powerful! Being able to name something and become more aware it … that has been a huge aspect of making changes for me.

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  3. I love those words Pat: uplifted, inspired, serene, curious, motivated, amused, contentment, amazed, and cheerful. I do check in with my emotions on occasion, but I tend toward more general terms: happy, excited, content (on the positive side). I can see where it may be useful to broaden the choices to be more specific and varied. I find it interesting that we humans developed a negative bias as a way of survival. Now we work to cultivate a positive outlook in order to thrive. Thanks, as always, for sharing your study.

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    1. Christie, Just getting to respond to comments… I didn’t realize I missed it earlier in the week. I hope you find some expanded language you liked in the lexicon I sent to you.

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  4. Hii Pat! I tend to be pretty optimistic and positive–and have been all my life but I do believe that there is always room for improvement. I think that work of cultivating positive emotions is always a good way to go. I’ve also recently read and discovered the work of Rick Hanson Ph.D in his book Hardwiring Happiness and on his Podcast with his son Forrest. There is SO much good information out there for us all so lots of things to read and discover. ~Kathy

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    1. Kathy, I’ll put that book on my reading list (which seems to always get longer and never shorter… so many books, so little time!). I’ve struggled with engaging in podcasts. Perhaps I’ll try again as this winter looks like more time indoors – I’ll need to figure out some different exercise approaches – a good time to multi-task with podcasts.

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    1. It does require some level of motivation. Once I started a few small things (like daily gratitude) and felt the difference, the motivation has come more easily. It actually does feel better to be positive! I’m still working on things, but the tools have been really helpful during this pandemic time.

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  5. Hi Pat – it’s so good that you’re proactively approaching being positive in these difficult times. I find that there are many ways to keep the positive vibe happening if we choose to seek them out. One of my biggest reminders is from my husband who says it always comes back to catching yourself thinking something negative and immediately questioning that idea and replacing it with truth or with something that is more helpful and positive – it doesn’t happen overnight, but a gradual change is better than no change at all.

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    1. Leanne, You are so right abut catching your thinking – whether its negative thoughts, self limiting beliefs, that inner critic. And yup, it takes practice. I think that is why I’m liking the concept of putting Positive Psychology into practice. Just keep working on the tools.

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  6. My interest in positive psychology began when I researched aspects of achieving ‘flow’. My understanding of the concept of ‘flow’ began with the work of Dr. Csikszentimihalyi. As I learn how to embrace ageing, I’m drawn to activities that embrace ‘flow’. It’s wonderful to lose oneself in a hobby or sport where the dimension of time is gone. So essential during this pandemic!

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