Let’s face it. Life can be hard!
So let’s look at three unlikely emotions which psychologist David DeSteno from Northeastern University has discovered can help us and perhaps ease the pain.
First, appreciating what we already have is a good place to start.
When DeSteno instructed his students to write about an event that made them feel grateful, they were more inclined to hold out for something better.
In other words, when you feel grateful about what you already have, future gains become icing on the cake. This makes it easier for us to persevere.
Gratitude and contentment
In addition, gratitude increases the dopamine and serotonin levels in our brain, which are the key neurotransmitters that give us feelings of contentment. If we are grateful more often, the happiness-producing neural pathways strengthen, just as exercise strengthens the body.
So it turns out that gratitude, of all things, may be as stimulating as Prozac. In fact, they do the same thing! Expressing gratitude tweaks the anterior cingulate cortex, just like Prozac does.
Gratitude and optimism
In addition, researchers from the University of California, Davis found that after regularly expressing gratitude for 10 weeks, study participants reported feeling more optimistic about their lives. As a result, these participants exercised more and visited the doctor less often.
Gratitude for your friends
And finally, Robert Emmons, Ph.D., a gratitude researcher, writes, “When you become truly aware of the value of your friends and family members, you are likely to treat them better, perhaps producing an ‘upward spiral,’ a sort of positive feedback loop, in which strong relationships give you something to be grateful for and in turn fortifying those very same relationships.”
2. Compassion for others...and for yourself
A second emotion is the willingness to sacrifice our own resources to come to somebody’s aid.
Besides it helping us feel good about ourselves, people also tend to pay it back to us,” DeSteno says. In fact, close relationships with others are among the best protections against stress.
Compassion for oneself helps smooth the bumps in the road. In one study, students who were encouraged not to criticize themselves too harshly for poor test results later spent more time studying. Self-compassion has also been associated with a stronger drive to practice and to exercise.
The third emotion is pride in a project and in yourself. More specifically, it is acknowledging your progress on a project while you are still working on the project and as you are making mistakes. Encouraging ourselves as we progress through a task actually builds an internal motivation to persist.
Study participants who were being praised for their score on a visual task spent longer on the next task than those who simply learned that they had scored highly when the task was completed.
But Steve! These are all emotions.
I can’t just say to myself, “I will feel grateful” Or I will feel compassionate!” or “I will feel proud!” My feelings don’t work that way. Well...yes and no!
Do you know where your emotions primarily come from, dear reader? They come from our beliefs. More specifically, they come from what we are choosing to say to ourselves about ourselves and about our lives. This includes:
What we choose to be grateful for
When we choose to help our friends
The prideful messages we choose to give ourselves in the midst of a task and while we are making mistakes
What is so exciting about this is that when we change our beliefs, our feelings follow.
This is the reason that the study participants at the University of California at Davis felt more optimistic after choosing to regularly express their gratitude over 10 weeks. And, they exercised more and visited the doctor less often.
Steven Campbell is the author of “Making Your Mind Magnificent” and conducts “The Winners Circle” every two months at Sonoma Mountain Village in RP. Contact Steven at 480-5007 or go his website at stevenrcampbell.com to ask about his one-day free monthly seminar.