Positive Emotions in Tough Times

It’s the 1st of February, yay! Did anyone else find January l-o-n-g?? 

I hit a wall of tiredness and fed-up-ness, with emotions ranging from teary sadness (I cried for half a day) to irritation and anger (ranting). Disappointment and frustration were in the mix too, along with boredom and occasional overwhelm. 

Are you relating to any of this?! So many others I speak with are struggling, tired of Covid, tired of being cooped up and seeing no-one and nowhere to go, and for many – nothing to do but work longer hours than ever. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to have work right now. 

It might seem a little bit strange so for me to write about positive emotions today. That’s my theme for the month ahead. There aren’t enough of them around at the moment, which means we’re all stuck in the doldrums, or worse – struggling with mental health issues. You see, if we only have about one positive emotion for every negative emotion we experience, that looks like depression. 

It’s estimated that we need a Positivity Ratio of 5:1 ie 5 positive emotions for every negative one we experience, in order to be flourishing. Think about it – when you’re experiencing what you call a negative emotion, how long do you spend feeling it? Is it seconds, minutes, hours, all day? Think about a time a loved one says something snarky to you or criticizes you in some way. 

Contrast this then to a positive emotion – for example when you receive praise or a compliment – how long do you hold onto that emotion? 

The chances are that your negative reaction to criticism is something you hold onto in your head for quite a while. You possibly rehearse what was said, imagine what you should have said, and think of lots of other scenarios with that person where you felt equally irritated/hurt/angry or upset. 

It’s equally likely that a compliment is something you just brush off, barely feeling the positive effect at all. 

That is one of the reasons that we need more positive emotions than negative emotions – because we tend to wallow in the negative for longer. 

In these difficult times, we are in, it’s important to feel all the emotions that come up for you. Journal, cry, talk to somebody, walk – do whatever helps you to feel your feelings and express them appropriately and work them through. All emotions are valid and to be experienced. 

And still, be aware of the positivity ratio for your wellbeing. Take more moments to experience joy, savour the little positive moments, make them last a little longer through your appreciation of the good. Enjoy the fresh air, the dawn chorus, the first daffodils. Breathe in peace and stillness. Continue to reach out to connect with the people you love and who keep you sane through all this. Laugh often (look up your favourite comedians on YouTube). Taste your food. Savour the sensation of your soft pillow. Slow down and find little moments of joy in all the simple things, and make sure your day has many more of those little moments of a presence than it has of the negative moments, so that overall the balance tips in your favour, even during these toughest of times. Stay well, we will get through this, and maybe even have learned along the way.