As I sat down at my desk this morning it struck me, I was feeling pretty positive. Why? In this locked down coronavirus world, I’m missing being able to go and sit with my Dad who lives 90 miles away. I’m missing being face-to-face with friends. Work is uncertain and I’ve got lots of questions about the future. But it’s undeniable, I’m feeling good.
There are benefits for me in lock down. I’m always tussling with a conflict between a desire to engage with people and a wish to pull away, something that has evaporated for the time being. But today, it’s more than that. There’s even some excitement. I’m excited about exploring new things, learning new things. It’s not been a carefully considered plan, but I seem to have immersed myself in personal development in recent weeks. I’ve just completed a brilliant online yoga course for beginners (Vula Yoga) led by the lovely Dom Catto. I’ve read a good book on self harm, completed the Science of Wellbeing on coursera.org and watched lectures on surviving trauma and sexual violence. I’ve just signed up for an online workshop this weekend on increasing the therapist’s embodied presence online. My choices definitely won’t be everyone’s, but the point is I’ve immersed myself in things that interest me.
Interest is a positive emotion. It’s expansive, broadening our behaviour. The more we engage, the more we become interested in the next thing and then the next and before we know it, we’re on an adventure of exploration.
Surrounded by coronavirus and the limitations it’s imposing, it’s natural to feel any number of emotions often thought of as negative – fear, anger, sadness. These are evolutionary, adaptive emotions, hardwired into our brains. We can’t consciously control them. They are instinctive and immediate. They tell us about the world around us, about what we do or don’t like. They narrow the focus of attention onto the threat and propel us into the action needed to ensure survival. Fear makes us dodge the difficult conversation. It’s anger that enables us to make it clear when something is not okay and it’s sadness that slows us down and reach out for connection. Without disgust, we would probably eat the rotten fruit.
They are big, and visceral not cognitive. When I’m angry, I don’t think it, I know it in every part of my body. Much of my work as a psychotherapist is helping people accept and engage with these core emotions.
But other emotions are expansive and, now I look back, it’s clear I’ve been excited to take the opportunity to learn new things. One of the core emotions, excitement propels us towards the object of our excitement. For me, in this instance, that object is engaging and relevant new knowledge. The result – I feel positive, good and excited about the day ahead.
There is plenty of evidence that indicates being immersed in this positive experience means I am likely to be more creative, flexible, open-minded and efficient. The research also suggests I’m likely to be more interested in variety and accepting of different behaviours. That says a lot for what I might be able to get done today and what I’m going to be like to be around.
Perhaps most exciting of all, the benefits of engaging in positive emotions are not just for today. There is good evidence that engagement with positive emotions fuels personal resilience, creating resources I can call on later.
Go on, get excited about something today and immerse yourself in an expanding world of positive experience.